By 1969, Raquel Welch was at the peak of her cinematic career. Still a bit rough-around-the-edges as an actress, she nevertheless possessed a charming on-screen personality. Not surprisingly, that wasn't the aspect that movie studios chose to showcase when marketing her films. A prime example is Flareup, a 1969 thriller that heavily stressed images and clips of Welch gyrating in a sexy outfit as a go-go dancer. The fact that she is dressed in depressingly demure outfits except for this brief sequence represents something less than truth-in-advertising. Welch is Michele, a vivacious, independent minded Las Vegas strip club dancer whose best friend is murdered by her psychotic ex-husband Alan (Luke Askew). He gets away with the murder and kills another of his wife's friends, who he believes conspired to cause convince his ex to divorce him. Last on the list is Michele, who he relentless hunts. Although charismatic, Michele shows a distinct lack of common sense when it comes to self-protection. For reasons never explained, she turns down police protection and is immediately stalked by Alan. He trails her to Los Angeles, where her poor judgment flares up again (pardon the pun) when he pursues her in a high speed car chase. In the kind of logic made for "women-in-jeopardy" movies, Michele sails through the crowded streets of L.A. where she could seek help from hundreds of passersby, only to wind up in a remote and deserted section of Griffith Park where her would-be killer pursues her through a zoo. She later continues to show similar good sense by escaping from a guarded hospital room only to walk straight into the killer's next trap.
Flareup epitomizes the guilty pleasure movie, from the faux Bond-like opening credits to some laughably bad acting. The film is directed in a clunky, erratic style by James Neilson, who doesn't miss an opportunity to use a zoom lens or a cliched situation. He does succeed, however, in making the most of impressive on-location shooting in both Vegas and L.A, which at least gives the movie a feeling of authenticity. Neilson also shoots topless go go girls at L.A's famed Losers Lounge,where "King Leer" himself, Russ Meyer, is said to have scouted for well-endowed "talent" for his own movies. James Stacy is the parking lot attendant who starts a love affair with Michele and, refreshingly, this is one movie that doesn't have the male play hero to rescue his girlfriend. Michele maybe lacking in good judgment but is brave and resourceful enough to take on the killer herself. The movie does have some genuine suspense and one particularly chilling sequence in which an elderly motorist realizes that the hitchhiker he has picked up is actually a cold blooded murderer. Here, director Neilson finally distinguishes himself in an extensive sequence that is quite haunting.
The movie is good, passable fun and brings back some fond memories of the swinging Sixties. The region-free DVD from the Warner Archive contains an original trailer that emphasizes that Welch is now playing "herself", not a Mexican bandito or a cavegirl, a sly knock on her earlier films. The trailer, which is sexist enough to cause Gloria Steinem heart palpitations also presents Stacy with prominent billing- and spells his name wrong!
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This film comes across as something of a
vanity project for Pacino, part documentary, part dramatisation of Shakespeare's Richard III, in an attempt to explore, understand and
represent the play to the common man. The film and its aims are ambitious perhaps and in great danger of hilarious
and actorly self parody in places ("It has always been a dream of mine to
communicate how I feel about Shakespeare to other people") . Although overall Pacino's film is a little confused
about what it's exact aims are, it does capture some entertaining aspects of
the creative acting and directing process.
Pacino's sincere passion for Richard III, his
earnest attempts to analyse it and make it relevant are admirable; the play is
complex and interwoven, full of scheming politics, intrigue and backstabbing. He tackles head on a number of issues
including the difficulties American actors and audiences face with the language
of Shakespeare, their overly reverential attitude toward the text (which Derek
Jacobi points out is the main stumbling block for American actors) and the fact
that the average man-on-the-street honestly just finds Shakespeare a bit
boring, amusingly illustrated in a number of vox-pops from the streets of New
The film features an impressive cast,
including performances from and interviews with Kevin Spacey, Alec Baldwin,
John Gielgud, Derek Jacobi, Kenneth Branagh, Vanessa Redgrave, James Earl
Jones, Winona Ryder, Kevin Kline, and a host of other recognisable faces; therefore,
the fly-on-the-wall documentary aspects are often the most gripping. There are some genuinely heated moments of
round-table rehearsals, revealing in terms of talent, dedication and
understanding of actors of their own art. Notable, amongst others, are Penelope Allen (Herself / Queen Elizabeth),
expressing sheer passionate outrage in a clear understanding of her character's
complexities and Alec Baldwin (Himself / Duke of Clarence) who seems drop
effortlessly and convincingly into inhabiting his character in a most understated
manner one moment, and the next making jokes between takes about being paid in
donuts. Pacino has clearly made a
directorial decision to rely on close-ups and screen actors in efforts to avoid
stagey British theatrical traditions, allowing actors to quietly and intimately
inhabit their characters, creating a more uniquely American approach to
Nonetheless, Pacino's sheer intensity and
commitment to the process of this do lead to some truly ridiculous actorly
moments here, worthy of a Christopher Guest-style parody. For example, Pacino's plan for casting is simply
to get a bunch of (famous) actors in a room with copies of the play, let people
randomly start reading out whatever parts they feel drawn to, with his intent
that "the role and the actor will merge... and hopefully the casting will
get done by itself, one way or another. Cut immediately to: room full of extremely confused actors arguing about
who's reading what part. In another
behind-the-scenes moment, Pacino's co-director attempts to explain iambic
pentameter to him; pontificating that it is "like an anteater, very high
in the back and short front legs...", leaving a bewildered Pacino
shrugging to camera. In fact, Pacino
seems unafraid to portray himself as perhaps not the most astute or perceptive
amongst his peers, admittedly finding the play "very confusing" and
full of "fancy words", expressing wide-eyed awe at Kevin Spacey's
clear understanding of the play: "You're a pretty smart guy".
The constant cutting of the film between
behind the scenes rehearsal and documentary exposition with more filmic dramatised
scenes of the play does not help with clarity for the viewer, however. The
point isn't always clear, and some of Shakespeare's text, in scenes taken out
of context at least, is not always easy to follow, plus it becomes increasingly
unclear what type of film Pacino is trying to make here. At times, it seems a lighthearted parody film
about attitudes toward Shakespeare; Kevin Kline tells a story of his earliest
memories of Richard III, having attended the play with his girlfriend: "we
made out in the back row and left in the intermission." At other times this is a documentary about American
actors struggling to understand Shakespearian motives; John Gielgud, upon being
asked why Americans find this difficult, replies, without irony: "Perhaps
they don't go to picture galleries and read books as much as we do." It becomes even less clear with what purpose
the film-within-the-film (of the cast in re-enacting Richard III in full period
costume and setting) is being made, particularly as it is filmed using the same
close-up documentary-style roving camerawork as for behind-the-scenes sections;
there is no clear visual distinction for the audience as to whether this is
rehearsal, play or final film.
With regards to the disc itself, the screener
DVD copy available at time of review had no menu screen, artwork or extras, so
it is difficult to comment on the finished article, although a recently added
commentary would be a fascinating and welcome addition. The transfer itself could have been better
also; the overall volume level seemed very quiet in comparison to most discs,
and the contrast in terms of both colour and shadows was a little washed out
This film is a bold attempt to grapple with a
number of issues, whilst trying to do justice to the play itself, perhaps
trying to do too many different things. It is a shame that the film increasingly focuses on dramatised film-within-a-film
scenes when it is the behind-the-scenes documentary struggle that really
provides the most fascinating aspects here. In fact, in true Shakespearian fashion, the wisest and most
heartbreaking words of the entire film come from the mouth of a homeless,
toothless, beggar interviewed ad-hoc in the streets of New York: "...if we
think words are things, and we have no feelings in our words...it doesn't mean
anything. But if we felt what we said,
we'd say less and mean more. [wanders
away from camera to a passerby] Spare some change?"
Fat City, released in 1972,
was something of a “rebound” film for beloved director John Huston, whose
previous two films had been flops. Based upon the 1969 novel by Leonard Gardner
(who also wrote the screenplay), Fat City
follows Stacy Keach as Billy Tully, a small time boxer who never made it big
who is living in squalor. When Billy makes a rare return visit to the gym, he
meets Ernie (Jeff Bridges, hot off of a Best Supporting Actor nomination for The Last Picture Show). Billy sees some
potential in the teenager’s boxing ability and suggests he go see his old
manager, Ruben (Nicholas Colasanto—the future “Coach” on Cheers). Ernie does as told, and soon finds himself under Ruben’s
optimistic wing, while Billy’s life further deteriorates when he begins an
affair with an alcoholic wreck named Oma (Susan Tyrell, who would herself
secure a Best Supporting Actress nomination for this film). At the same time
that Ernie begins his fighting career, he too runs into trouble when he
impregnates his virginal girlfriend and soon leaves the world of boxing behind.
When Ernie and Billy reunite on a work crew in the San Joaquin Valley, both
become inspired to get back into the ring and return to Ruben. However, for
those assuming Bridges and Keach inevitably come to blows in some sort of
bloody boxing ring climax, they don’t. This is because Fat City isn’t so much a “boxing movie” as it is a character
portrait of Kecah’s sad-sack loser who just can’t seem to help himself out of
the bottle and other bad choices. Things seem to be on the up for Billy in the
third act when he finally shakes off his alcoholic lover Oma and wins his
“comeback” fight. Billy self-destructs soon after though when he doesn’t get as
big of a cut from the fight as he hoped for from Rudy (who has already given
Billy plenty of money in advances). Billy soon goes running back to Oma, now
back with her husband, and after her he crawls right back into the bottle.
Billy ends the film just as he had begun it, and though we don’t know his
future, it looks to be subpar as he shares a cup of coffee with Ernie.
character pieces like this are fairly common today, back in 1972 Fat City was something of a trailblazer.
And though things end on an ambiguous if not totally sour note for the film’s
protagonist, for director John Huston Fat
City was indeed a successful comeback as it was both a critical darling and
a financial success. Once again the famous director was back in high demand. As
to those who no doubt puzzle over the film’s title, which is never spoken in
the film itself, author Leonard Gardner told Time in 1969, “Lots of people have asked me about the title of my
book. It's part of Negro slang. When you say you want to go to Fat City, it
means you want the good life. I got the idea for the title after seeing a
photograph of a tenement in an exhibit in San Francisco. 'Fat City' was
scrawled in chalk on a wall. The title is ironic: Fat City is a crazy goal no
one is ever going to reach.”
in summary, those hoping for an inspiring sports movie might be disappointed,
but for those that love downbeat realistic character studies, Fat City is a real winner. The Twilight
Time Blu-ray comes with the film’s theatrical trailer, an isolated score track,
an audio commentary with film historians Lou Dobbs and Nick Redman, and also
some wonderful liner notes written by Julie Kirgo. This is a limited edition of 3,000 units.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release from Time Life:
Bob Hope, the greatest entertainer of the 20th century, was
above all a patriotic American dedicated to our troops around the world. His
star-studded USO Christmas shows brought a taste of home to servicemen and
women scattered thousands of miles from their families. Bob rang in the
Christmas season with the biggest stars in Hollywood along with major figures
from the worlds of sports and music, and cracked jokes with his celebrity pals
and presidents alike. At home or abroad, his specials proved that laughter was
the best medicine.
THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES 6-DVD set features 13 specials from Bob’s career,
spanning five decades with dozens of celebrity guests. Highlights include:
Bob’s first studio comedy special “in living color” with
guests Jack Benny, Bing Crosby and Janet Leigh
The Bob Hope Chevy Show with the entire cast of I Love
Lucy—Desi Arnaz, Lucille Ball, Vivian Vance, and William Frawley, plus James
Cagney and Diana Dors
A hilarious spoof of Star Wars and other sketches with Tony
Bennett, Perry Como, James Garner, Mark Hamill, Dean Martin, Olivia
Newton-John, Barbra Streisand, Tuesday Weld, The Muppets and more stars
The murder-mystery parody Joys (A Comedy Whodunit) with
nearly fifty guest stars including Charo, Milton Berle, Dean Martin, Don
Rickles, George Gobel, Alan King, Don Knotts, Groucho Marx, Vincent Price andFreddie
The best of the bloopers from 30 years of Bob’s shows with George
Burns, Sammy Davis Jr., Angie Dickinson, Phyllis Diller, Burt Reynolds,
DonRickles, Brooke Shields, Elizabeth Taylor, Mr. T, John Wayne and
Bob’s 1967 USO tour to 22 bases around Vietnam, Thailand and
the South Pacific in 15 days with special guest Raquel Welch
Highlights from over 25 years of specials in Bob Hope’s
World of Comedy and the celebration Highlights of a Quarter Century of Bob Hope
A look at Bob’s personal relationships with American
presidents including Franklin D. Roosevelt, Bill Clinton, John F. Kennedy,
and Harry S. Truman
Bob Hope’s 90th birthday celebration featuring tributes by Johnny
Carson, George Burns and many more!
EXCLUSIVE BONUS: Plus, the DVD set contains the
exclusive bonus feature Shanks for the Memory about the world of golf according
to Bob Hope, which includes historic clips of Bob with Bing Crosby,
presidents and pros on courses around the world, and special appearances by Pres.
Gerald Ford, pro golfers Arnold Palmer, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus and
Trotted out towards the tail end of the early 1980s slice-'em-and-dice-'em
heyday, The Initiation is a competent
if unremarkable entry to the subgenre, notable if anything for its 'name'
casting – Psycho's Vera Miles, Clu
Gulager from long-running TV western The
Virginian – and an early performance by Daphne Zuniga; despite the fact she
receives an "introducing" credit on the opening titles, the actress
had actually appeared in an earlier slasher feature, 1982's The Dorm That Dripped Blood.
College student Kelly Fairchild (Zuniga) has been suffering
from nightmares, possibly manifested by a repressed childhood memory in which
her affluent parents (Miles and Gulager) were attacked in their home by an
intruder. Submitting herself to experimental dream therapy under the college's
psychology lecturer (James Read), Kelly is also one among a group of sorority
pledges who, as part of their initiation into Delta Rho Chi, have been tasked
with breaking into the shopping mall owned by her father’s company. She and her
friends subsequently find themselves locked in for the night, unaware that
they’re in the company of a shadowy prowler who's just stopped off in the
sports department to pick up some handy hunting goods...
Former actor Larry Stewart was an episodic television
director when he took up the reins on 1984's The Initiation and it represents his only theatrical feature. One
can see why. The pacing is painfully pedestrian, in fact aside from the
enigmatic flashback/dream sequences – which, since they’re swiftly shelved once
the stalkin’ ’n’ slashin’ kicks into gear- are clearly in situ to lay the
foundations for some dark familial revelations come the finale – the first hour
is notable only for its dearth of engaging incident. At least when the killing
begins the pace picks up a little, yet although the bursts of violence are
convincingly staged – which is more than can be said for some of those in a
number of The Initiation's genre
siblings – Stewart and screenwriter Charles Pratt, Jr fail to muster up anything
particularly imaginative; this is strictly paint-by-numbers stuff. Even the
twist ending – which despite some heavy handed attempts at audience
misdirection at least manages to remain fairly unpredictable – falls shy of unique.
Coming to the party so late in the day, The
Initiation needed something – anything
– to make it stand out; sadly it just comes up wanting.
Still, the movie looks
good, the multi-floor shopping mall location lending it a goodly measure of
production value, and the strong cast alone makes it worth a visit, especially
Vera Miles, who'd just recently revived her Psycho
heroine Lila Crane in a 23-years-later sequel. Daphne Zuniga is excellent too
and manages to eschew the script’s nudity demands, the decoration in that
respect befalling former model and future soap star Hunter Tylo. James Reid is
also entertaining as the college lecturer sidelining in unauthorised therapy; I
must admit though, whenever I see the actor I can't help but think of him as that
dodgy dentist in TV movie Columbo: Uneasy
Lies the Crown.
In summation, where seasoned slasher aficionados are
unlikely to find anything here they’ve not seen a dozen times before, as
undemanding booze'n'popcorn terrors go The
Initiation makes for an adequate enough time-passer.
Released on DVD in the UK by Arrow back in 2013, the company
has reissued the film in a newly restored Region A/B dual format Blu-Ray/DVD
package. There's a moderate level of grain present throughout the feature and
the hi-def image occasionally serves to accentuate poorly focussed shots. The
mono soundtrack is nice and clean. Extra features comprise a chatty commentary
from podcast team The Hysteria Continues, a short piece of footage from a frat
party sequence (omitted from the restoration due to the loss of the original
soundtrack) and a trailer. Additionally there are interviews with writer
Charles Pratt, Jr and supporting cast members Christopher Bradley and Joy
Jones; sadly, though perhaps to be expected, there’s no input from stars Miles
or Gulager, whilst disappointingly Zuniga is also conspicuous in her absence. Reversible
sleeve artwork and a limited edition collectors' booklet spruce up the deal.
of the more fascinating aspects of the Spanish horror film is that the
country’s most famous exports were produced during the near forty year
dictatorial regime of Falangist leader Generalissimo
Francisco Franco. In interviews
conducted following the passing of the repressive dictator in 1975, actor Paul Naschy
(the so-called “Lon Chaney of Spanish horror”) often expressed bemusement regarding
the restrictions imposed by Spanish censors on his films. Naschy’s horror films were (arguably, I
suppose) of either very modest or completely non-political in their design - if
not their subtext.
Naschy (aka Jacinto Molina Alvarez) was greatly influenced by the celebrated
cycle of gothic horror and mystery films produced by Universal Studios in the
1930s and 1940s. The primary difference
between these monochrome films and those Naschy would lens beginning 1968 is
unmistakable: most of his films,
including the colorful Count Dracula’s
Great Love (1971), owed more to the more contemporary themes and style of
Britain’s Hammer Studios. Spanish
implementation of less discreet on-screen sexuality and a seemingly limitless
supply of blood plasma packets pushed even Hammer’s edgiest offerings to the tame,
more modest borders of exploitation cinema.
the horror films released in this otherwise repressive environment were neither
produced under the tightest of restriction nor designed in an effort to avoid
offending the sensibilities of right-wing prudes. As anyone who has ever enjoyed a Paul Naschy
or Jess Franco film can attest, Spanish horror offerings of the 1960s and 1970s
are suffused with gory imagery, eroticism, savagery, envelope-pushing scenarios…
and generous dollops of female nudity.
most censorship boards, the Spaniards didn’t seem terribly concerned with flashpoints
involving on-screen immoralities or scenes of sickening violence. Their primary concern was simply that film characters
demonstrating unwholesome peccadilloes or otherwise satanic non-Christian traits
not be identified as being of wholesome Spanish heritage. So a werewolf bearing the Eastern-European the
Slavic surname of Daninsky was permitted, as were godless Hungarian vampires
and Prussian hunchbacks. Those in the Spanish
film industry were more than happy to ring international box-office cash
registers with their appropriations; the atheistic commies of Eastern Europe were
welcome to the authorship of the malevolent creatures spawned from their
Aguirre’s Count Dracula’s Great Love
(original title El Gran Amor Del Conde
Dracula) was Paul Naschy’s only on screen appearance as Brom Stoker’s
legendary vampire Count Dracula. The
actor would in his long career assume the roles of practically every vanguard monster
of the “classic horror” pantheon. In a
lengthy series of Spanish-European co-productions, Naschy would don the makeup
and costumes of vampires, mummies, hunchbacks, werewolves… he even tackled the dual
role of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Well
regarded by filmmakers and contemporaries as a hard-working, earnest
actor-writer-director, he was also remembered as a humble, modest man. His greatest pride was when horror fans
whispered his name with the same reverence reserved for the greatest icons of
the genre: Karloff, Lugosi, Chaney, and
opens, more or less, as nearly every other Dracula film. Following a violent breakdown of the
horse-carriage somewhere near Hungary’s mountainous Borgo Pass, a group of five
travelers - one gentleman and four buxom beauties - seek temporary help at the
supposedly derelict sanitarium of Dr. Kargos. The good doctor is nowhere to be found – at least, not yet – but the
castle’s new tenant, the soft-spoken, candelabra carrying Dr. Wendell Marlow
(Paul Naschy) soon answers the door of what’s rumored to be the ancestral home
of the Vlad (“The Impaler”) Tepes, the bloody historical Prince of Wallachia.
first sight Marlowe is no cruel Vlad Tepes. Naschy’s Marlowe is a supposed Austrian
aristocrat and an apparent softie: he’s a thoughtful and gracious sort,
self-effacing, and unrelentingly polite. In fact, when the stranded travelers are brought into the anteroom,
they’re not only immediately welcomed with courtesy but offered accommodation and
meals for the week. This is necessary,
he explains, as there are no hotels in the area; he owns no transportation modes
and his forthcoming order of supplies are seven days away.
four blond girls at first don’t seem terribly grateful for the Dr.’s generous
hospitality. One whispers a complaint almost
immediately, moaning her displeasure that the castle is a dreary, gloomy sort
of a place. If director Aguirre wanted
to convey a palatial sense of doom and menace to match that description, he was
clearly let down by his art department. The castle interiors are generally bright and immaculately clean save
for the odd cobweb or two drooping forlornly from lighting fixtures. The castle’s cellar, where the delivery of a
wooden crate of human-length proportion arrives at the film’s beginning, is a
bit more atmospheric: here we find the
stony labyrinth passageways, the moss covered walls, the rat-infested rooms we
of the stranded travelers finds the genial Dr. Marlowe a physically attractive
specimen. That said, she’s reminded by a
friend that her tastes in men are her own. The friend prefers a man “slimmer and taller.” (Naschy was hardly a cadaverous Count, a muscular
man of stocky build and approximately only 5’ 8” in height). With little alternative the girls choose to
make themselves at home, now resigned to their unplanned stay at the castle. By day two they’re making the most of it and immodestly
sunning their naked bodies in the estate’s opaque pool. Though the castle grounds are in disrepair
and in serious need of some landscaping, they discover the wooded acreage is nonetheless
conducive to long negligee-garbed walks in the moonlight.
as a burn-to-order DVD from the Universal Vault Series, some may be quick to add
that they should have kept “The Conqueror” in the vault. The movie is notorious
for being one of the worst movies in Hollywood history. Much has been written
about how terrible this movie is so I’m going to avoid jumping on that
bandwagon. After all, calling this movie bad is like calling out water for
movie is also a part of a conspiracy theory of sorts because many of the cast
and crew died from cancer and some have connected those cancer deaths to the
location filming in St. George Utah which was the stand-in for the Gobi Desert.
St. George is downwind from where the above ground nuclear testing occurred in
Nevada. Indeed, many involved with this movie did succumb to cancer including lifetime
smoker John Wayne who also denied any connection between his cancer and the St.
George location filming.
CinemaScope widescreen image for “The Conqueror” looks terrific and has an
appropriately grand score by Victor Young. The movie stars John Wayne and Susan
Hayward and features some of the best character actors of the era including
Pedro Armendariz, Agnes Morehead, Thomas Gomez, William Conrad and Lee Van
Cleef. If only the movie was the western it tries so hard to be rather than a 13th
century historical epic taking place in Central Asia.
nobody was more surprised than former actor and director of “The Conqueror”
Dick Powel when the Duke insisted on playing the lead. When asked by reporters
during production how Wayne looked as Genghis Kahn, Powell replied, “Murderous.
Just murderous.” I’d say murderous for the viewer too. While there’s a lot of
ethnicity in the cast (Native American Indians from a local reservation were
hired as extras to portray the Mongolian hordes in the movie) it’s hard to
believe that they couldn’t cast a single Asian actor in this movie.
movie pulled in a healthy profit world-wide for RKO at the time of its initial
release in 1956, but it was critically panned and is difficult to watch. “The
Conqueror” was a personal favorite of the movie’s eccentric producer Howard
Hughes who owned RKO at the time and pulled the movie from theatrical and TV distribution.
Apparently Hughes watched the movie over and over again, but it was not seen by
mortal men again until1974 after the rights reverted to Paramount. This was the
final movie that Hughes personally produced and some may say it would have been
better if he had destroyed the negatives and all copies of the movie.
Conqueror” was previously released by Universal in 2006 as part of the, “An
American Icon: John Wayne 5 Movie Collection” DVD set. That release included
the trailer, subtitles and chapters. This burn to order release appears to be produced
from the same source material because it looks and sounds identical, but includes
no extras and the movie starts up immediately after loading. “The Conqueror” is
a rare turkey for the Duke as most of his post “Stagecoach” output is very
watchable. It’s a must see for die-hard fans of the Duke and when hosting movie
nights where you want guests to leave early.
I recently wrote in relation to a review of "The Big Show" that circus movies have gone the way of the Model T. You can add to that another genre of film that used to be a Hollywood staple- the safari movies in which the hero was a great white hunter. Changing social attitudes make it unlikely we'd ever again cheer some rock-jawed leading man as he unloads some hi caliber bullets into a grazing elephant or a lazing hippo. The last word on such films was Clint Eastwood's woefully underrated (and woefully under-seen) 1990 film "White Hunter, Black Heart", which was loosely based on the hunting obsessions of director John Huston during production of "The African Queen". Nevertheless, jungle-themed adventures are still the stuff of cinematic thrills in the minds of retro movie lovers. One of the best is "Rampage", a 1963 opus directed by Phil Karlson and based on a novel by actor/screenwriter Alan Caillou. Robert Mitchum stars as Harry Stanton, known in zoological circles as the world's most eminent tracker of wild game. The Wilhelm Zoo in Germany makes him a proposition: they will finance his trip to Malaysia to track down and capture the Enchantress, a legendary one-of-a-kind animal that is said to be half-leopard and half-tiger. Part of the deal is that Harry must also return with two tigers. Harry is told he will be traveling with Otto Abbot (Jack Hawkins), an internationally famed hunter of exotic prey. Harry is invited to meet Otto at his opulent home which is unsurprisingly decorated with trophies of his more notable expeditions into the wild. However, Harry's eye goes immediately to Abbot's girlfriend Anna (Elsa Martinelli), an exotic beauty many years younger than Otto. It's clear that Abbot takes great pride in his relationship with Anna and he enjoys seeing Harry looking at her with pangs of desire. It turns out that Anna was a young girl of fourteen who had no family and who was facing a harsh life on the streets. Harry "adopted" her, presumably for humanitarian reasons but, in fact, he was grooming her to be his lover. Out of gratitude for the opulent life Abbot has afforded her, she has complied even though it is clear she would rather have a relationship with another man. It only takes a moment for she and Harry to lock eyes before both of them realize they are drawn to each other.
At first the journey to Malaysia goes well enough. While Harry personally loathes the killing of exotic animals, he respects Abbot for his achievements. However, en route to their destination, it becomes clear to Abbot that Harry and Anna are becoming increasingly flirtatious. He even tells her that she has his permission to have a fling with Harry as long as it's a short-term affair and she continues to regard him as her "real" lover. However, Harry and Anna aren't interested in a quickie sexual thrill...both of them want to build a relationship. Things become more tense when they arrive in Malaysia and begin hunting the tigers and the Enchantress. Abbot attempts to kill a a charging rhino and finds it takes him two shots to do so, which apparently is a no-no in the world of big game hunting. The failure to bag the rhino with one shot becomes a metaphor for Harry's diminishing virility. To prove he still has what it takes, he foolishly attempts to capture the Enchantress in a cave and ends up being badly mauled. It falls to Harry to capture the beast. By the time the group is back in Germany, tensions are raw. Both Harry and Anna admit that they did make love and Anna tells Abbot that, while she respects him, she has never loved him. Driven to madness at the thought of losing Anna, Abbot lures Harry into the storage room where the Enchantress is locked in a cage. He frees the animal with the expectation that it will kill Harry but, instead the beast leaps from the train and hides somewhere in Berlin. With an all-out hunt on for the dangerous animal, the film predictably finds Harry, Abbot and Anna facing off against each other as well as the Enchantress.
"Rampage" is certainly dated. It's the kind of movie where the two male antagonists-to-be dress in tuxedos for their initial meeting and drink cocktails while the leading lady saunters about the house in a lavish gown. However, the movie was ahead of its time in terms of addressing the issue of animal conservation. The film makes a poignant plea through Mitchum's character to stop the wholesale annihilation of entire species. In that respect, the film joins only two others from this era that spring into mind that were similarly-themed: John Huston's "The Roots of Heaven" (1958) and Ivan Tors' "Rhino!" (1964). Despite intelligent direction by Phil Karlson and a compelling screenplay, the movie exists to showcase its three glamorous stars. Mitchum is solid as the thinking man's tough guy, Hawkins is old world elegance and superficial charm and Martinelli has the kind of traditional sex siren persona that is all but invisible in today's film industry. The movie also benefits from some exotic locations (apparently filmed in Hawaii, not Africa) and an impressive score by Elmer Bernstein (even if the title track sounds like a combination of Monty Norman's theme for "Call Me Bwana" combined with "The Banana Boat Song".) There's even an appearance by Sabu as a guide for the hunting expedition. The movie is unusually frank for its day in its treatment of sex. Mitchum and Martinelli practically undress each other with their eyes and this aspect lends increasing tension to the inevitable mano a mano showdown between rivals Mitchum and Hawkins. "Rampage" is largely off the radar screens of retro movie lovers but that's all the more reason why the DVD release through the Warner Archive is highly recommended. (Note: the DVD contains no extras but is region-free.)
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Ted Kotcheff’s “Billy Two Hats” (1974) is one of those
off-beat kind of movies they made back in the mid-Seventies when studios still
believed in small, realistic films that focused on character more than shoot-outs,
believable story lines more than special effects and solid performances by seasoned
actors who knew their craft more than flashy histrionics by shiny boys and
girls who just stepped off the front pages of the supermarket tabloids. It’s not
a great film by any means. It’s slow, and a bit heavy handed in getting across the
themes contained in Alan Sharp’s (“Osterman Weekend,” “Ulzana’s Raid”) script,
but it’s worth watching, if only so you can say you’ve seen the only “Kosher
Western” ever made.
57-year-old Gregory Peck, speaking with a thick Scottish
accent, stars as Arch Deans, a bank robber on the run with his young Kiowa half-breed
sidekick Billy (Desi Arnaz Jr). Jack Warden is Henry Gifford, the sheriff who’s
tracking them down. Gifford is a man with no love for outlaws or Indians or
much else for that matter. He captures Billy early in the story and tells him
that he looks on him as the lowest of the low. He’s also a cynic. When they
ride out into the desert he tells Billy to stop looking for his compadre to
come to his rescue. Deans is half way to Mexico, he says, already spending the
measly $400 they stole from the bank. But out in the desert, Kotcheff gives us
a shot of Deans up in the hills watching them.
Gifford stops for the night at a general store/saloon out
in the middle of nowhere run by an old friend—an ex-buffalo hunter by the name
of Copeland (David Huddleston), who has settled down with an Apache woman. Copeland
shares Gifford’s views on Native Americans, even though he lives with one. He
tells Gifford he and his “wife” had a son but, says, he “made her give him to
In the morning, Deans comes down from the hills and rescues
Billy, wounding Gifford in the shoulder. While Copeland patches him up, Gifford
asks Deans why he came back for Billy and Deans just shrugs and says: “He’s my
partner.” After the outlaws have ridden some distance away, Gifford reminds
Copeland of his old buffalo gun hanging on the wall of the saloon. Copeland
takes it down, loads and sights it carefully, and shoots Deans’ horse out from
under him at a distance of over half a mile or more away. Deans suffers a
broken leg as a result and the fugitives double up on the remaining horse and
It takes Gifford a few days before he’s well enough to
ride. While he’s recuperating there’s the obligatory scene where Copeland and
Gifford remember the days when they could stand in one spot all day and watch
the same herd of buffalo pass from morning to night. But Gifford also tells
Copeland he just can’t figure why Deans came back for the boy. He was in the
clear. It just doesn’t make sense to him that anyone would do that, especially
for a “breed.” “I’m a reasonable man,” he says. “It’s important to me that
things make sense.”
Meanwhile Billy has made a travois (an “Indian
perambulator,” Gifford calls it) for Deans and they try to get through the
mountains to Mexico, but in a canyon they run into a handful of Apaches. They manage
to scare them off without any loss or injury, but you know they’ll be back.
Their next stop is a small cabin inhabited by a settler
named Spencer (John Pearce) and his bought- from-St.-Louis- for-$100-wife
Esther (Sian Barbara Allen). Esther stutters and Spencer slaps her in the face whenever
she gets stuck on a word. “It shakes up her brain box,” he explains. Spencer
has a wagon and after some haggling agrees to drive Deans for $100 to a town
two days away where they have a doctor.
That night Deans and Billy sleep out in the barn and
Deans suddenly recalls how Gifford asked him why he came back for him. He tells
Billy he didn’t rightly know. But he asks Billy if he ever read the Bible. “Well,
there’s a bit in it,” he says, “from the Book of Ecclesiastes, that says `Two
are better than one because they have good reward for their labor. And if they
fall, the one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him that is alone when he
falleth, for he hath not another to help him up. And if one shall prevail
against him, two shall withstand him.’”
“Billy Two Hats” is essentially a movie about loneliness,
loyalty, hatred and the need for relationships, all good ingredients for what
could have been a gripping drama of alienation and a search for meaning in a
meaningless world. But Kotcheff (“First Blood,” and “Weekend at Bernie’s”)
seems to lack the depth and sensitivity to bring out the themes and emotions
contained in Sharp’s screenplay. The film’s pace is slow and the tone so muted
that a lot of scenes fail to convey any convincing emotion.
Peck’s performance as Deans is solid and his Scottish
accent seems authentic—one of the many off-beat touches of the movie. Warden as
Gifford is as effective as ever at making his character look lived-in and
Huddleston provides good backup for him. Arnaz isn’t called on to do much, and frankly
his love scenes with Sian Barbara Allen are handled rather clumsily and are too
perfunctory to have much dramatic effect.
Despite these limitations, “Billy Two Hats” is worthy of
your attention, at least as a breather from today’s super violent comic book
movies and a reminder that they once made movies, even westerns, for grown-ups.
By the way, while it may look like the American
Southwest, “Billy Two Hats” was actually filmed in the Negev Desert in southern
Israel. Kotcheff explains in an interview included on the Blu-Ray disc that for
financial reasons they could not make the movie in the U.S. and both he and
producer Norman Jewison thought the Spanish locations used in Spaghetti
westerns had been overused. Jewison was filming “Jesus Christ Superstar” in
Israel at the time and suggested he film it there. Thus, Kotcheff says, was the
first “Kosher Western” born.
Kino Lorber has released
“Billy Two Hats” on An impressive 1920x1080p Blu-Ray that presents all the
desolate beauty of the location captured on film by cinematographer Brian West.
An interview with Kotcheff and three trailers for this film and two other
Gregory Peck movies are the extras.
John M. Whalen is the author of "Hunting Monsters is My Business: The Mordecai Slate Stories" . Click here to order the book from Amazon)
In “Blackmail,” (1939), Edward G. Robinson plays John
Ingram, an expert at putting out oil well fires with explosives. He’s got a
wife, Helen (Ruth Hussey) a son, Hank (Bobs Watson), and a sidekick named Moose
(Guinn “Big Boy Williams). After one of his jobs, the newspapers snap his photo
and put him on the front page. His success affords him the opportunity to buy
his first oil well. But a short time after his picture appears in the papers an
obsequious stranger, William Ramey (Gene Lockhart), shows up at the house
begging for food. He turns out to be someone from Ingram’s past, who know that
the oil man is actually a wanted fugitive who escaped from a southern chain
gang nine years ago.
To keep Ramey quiet, Ingram gives him a job, but it
doesn’t take long before Ramey keeps upping the ante. He finally tells Ingram
he knows he’s innocent of the robbery charge he was sent to the chain gang for,
because he was the one who stole the money. In a scheme that only a dumb hero
in an MGM potboiler would fall for, Ingram exchanges ownership of the well for
a signed confession. Ramey, of course is too smart for Ingram, and in the end
Ingram not only does not get the confession, he also loses the well and is
taken in by police for questioning. Next
thing you know, it’s back to the chain gang.
“Blackmail,” was released by MGM seven years after
Warners’ “I Am a Fugitive from a Chain
Gang,” (1932) starring Paul Muni. Rather than focusing on social injustice and
the deplorable conditions of Southern chain gangs, as the Warners film did,
“Blackmail” uses all that as background for what is basically a melodrama. It
was probably a smart move to go that way, since there was no way MGM, or anyone
else, could have turned out a better socially conscious chain gang movie than
the Paul Muni film.
The chain gang scenes in “Blackmail” are not bad, with
director H.C. Potter and his writers (David Hertz and William Ludwig), focusing
less on the social inequities and more on how Ingram intends to honor his
promise to his wife not to try and escape again by not letting anything that
happens on the chain gang get to him. But after learning that Ramey is planning
to sell the well, and his family is now living in near-poverty, he begins to
crack. Not only that, the sadistic guard, who he escaped from nine years ago,
is still there with his bull whip, adding to his misery. He finally makes a
break with help from his good buddy, Moose, and heads back home for a showdown
“Blackmail,” is an entertaining movie. Not every film has
to have “redeeming social value,” but it’s just too bad MGM couldn’t have come
up with a more believable plot. There are too many scenes where the characters
do things that strain credulity, especially when the film reaches its climax.
One of the problems is that Edward G, on loan to Metro,
was miscast. We’re used to him in his gangster roles—the tough guy who always comes
out on top. He gives a good performance as Ingram, but this tricky bit of
casting-against-type undermined the basic story line. As Ramey keeps squeezing him, you keep
expecting Ingram to pull a gun out of his coat and tell him: “Say, what do you
think I am? Some kind of sap? Got any last wishes?” But instead he falls hook
line and sinker for Ramey’s machinations.
Lockhart is another bit of unusual casting. Normally the
kind-hearted, sympathetic guy, as Ramey, he plays a groveling, totally
despicable snake. Those distractions wouldn’t be so much of a problem if the
plot and its unlikely twists, didn’t require so much suspension of disbelief. The
story, as contrived as it is, move along at high speed, and Ingram’s problems pile
up one after another for 81 fast minutes to the point where it seems he’ll
never resolve them. You won’t be tempted to hit the stop button on your remote
control until you reach the final frame, even though the denouement may leave
you scratching your head.
The Warner Archive has released “Blackmail” on DVD.
Picture and sound quality are very good. The only extra on the disc is the
original theatrical trailer. If you’re an Edward G. Robinson fan, or just like
chain gang movies, you’ll probably want to add this obscure title to your
John M. Whalen is the author of "Hunting Monsters is My Business: The Mordecai Slate Stories" . Click here to order the book from Amazon)
it really be 25 years since the release of The
Commitments? An acclaimed hit with audiences and critics alike when first
seen, it quickly grew in stature into something of a modern classic and has
remained perennially popular ever since. It has also inspired touring bands, a
major stage production and a few million sub-standard karaoke renditions of the
iconic Mustang Sally (and other
ditties) in pubs up and down the land.
Jimmy Rabbitte (Robert Arkins) dreams of being a band manager, and places an ad
in the local paper – “Have you got soul? If so the world’s hardest working band
is looking for you.” Various losers, opportunists and drop-outs turn up at his
door to audition, but bit by bit he manages to put together an inexperienced
band comprising ten members: men, women, backing singers, guitarists,
saxophonists, a drummer and an unlikely lead vocalist in the shape of slobbish
Deco (Andrew Strong). Their specialty is soul music and, with Jimmy’s undimmed
enthusiasm driving them (“say it once, say it loud: I'm black and I'm proud”)
they begin rehearsing for their debut gig. The name of the band: The
run amok among the band members, but despite their off-stage bickering they
prove surprisingly terrific on-stage.
Around Dublin their reputation grows and they find themselves on the verge of
greatness, receiving glowing reviews in the local press and growing
word-of-mouth hype. On the night of their biggest gig, saxophonist Joey ‘The Lips’
Fagan (Johnny Murphy) assures the band he has arranged for soul and R&B
legend Wilson Pickett to join them on-stage after performing his sell-out gig
in Dublin. By this point, the bands’ internal politics are at breaking point.
Can they keep their tempers at bay long enough to hit the big-time, or will
this show mark the final curtain for The Commitments?
Alan Parker does a wonderful job, creating a hilarious view of working class
Dublin. He doesn’t shy away from the bleaker, grittier elements, showing
rundown shacks used as shops in the middle of a ramshackle housing estate,
drunken pub brawls, foul-mouthed street altercations, dreary living conditions,
garbage piled high, and people bickering about sex and music through their
unremittingly glum, booze-drenched days. There is nothing glamorous about the
film: it is a feel-good movie in some
ways, but there is equally a feel-bad vibe running beneath it all at the same
band is thrown together from an advert in a local paper, with potential talents
auditioning in Jimmy’s cluttered front room, or even out on the street, while
he watches from an armchair or even from the bath-tub with his shower cap on.
Parker’s characters use words like ‘fuck’ or ‘shit’ as regularly as they use
basic determiners and nouns, yet he somehow invests them with love and warmth
and makes them people worth rooting for. Over his career, Parker worked on a
number of successful musicals including Bugsy
Malone (1976), Fame (1980) and Evita (1996). Critics have drawn parallels
between The Commitments and Fame, citing this as an Irish
counterpart. Although Parker is a great director, it is surprising to note he
only has 19 directing credits to his name. With him, it’s all about quality not
quantity: he has proven himself a brilliant director across numerous genres
with films such as Midnight Express
(1978), Shoot The Moon (1982), Mississippi Burning (1988), Angela’s Ashes (1999) and The Life of David Gale (2003). Parker
shows up briefly in a Hitchcock-style cameo as a producer at Eejit Records, the
label which shows interest in signing the band.
Director John Mackenzie's powerful
and captivating 1972 kitchen sink drama Made
has been given the opportunity to find a new audience via a tasty UK Blu-Ray
release from Network Distributing.
Valerie Marshall (Carol
White) is a single mother eking out a meagre living as a London telephone
exchange operator whilst simultaneously caring for her
multiple-sclerosis-stricken mother (Margery Mason). Seemingly destined never to
find true happiness and weary of the inapposite attentions of would-be suitors,
Valerie agrees to assist priest and family friend Father Dyson (John Castle) in
chaperoning a bunch of underprivileged youths on a day trip to the seaside.
There she meets folk singer Mike Preston (Roy Harper), whose outwardly relaxed
approach to life just might pave her way to salvation.
A slightly ponderous and largely
dispiriting snapshot of early 1970s lower class Britain, I'll openly confess
that when I first saw Made I was
convinced it would leave me cold. And after its grim beginnings I smugly
concluded that I was right. Yet gradually, in forging an array of richly drawn
characterisations and harrowing narrative turns, director Mackenzie and writer
Howard Barker slyly reeled me far enough in to their sorrowful tale that by the
time curtain fall loomed I was aching for Valerie to find happiness.
So pitch perfect are the
performances of everyone involved that the film’s warts and all tactic – which
certainly doesn't pull any punches when it comes to subjects such as the
indignities of hospitalisation and the darker face of football fanaticism – varnishes
the proceedings with a distinct documentary vibe. Nowhere is this feeling more
alive than during a powerful scene in which Valerie receives a visit from a policeman;
asking to be allowed in before he imparts his awful news, and diplomatically
turning to close the door on the camera (and, by extension, us the audience), the
officer leaves us outside to shamefully eavesdrop on Valerie's torment, whilst a
lingering shot of the closed door is intercut with a succession of fleeting
images that serve to compound the heartbreak.
One can't help but feel empathic
towards Valerie as it becomes apparent that all the men in her life care about
her only to the point of satisfying their own agendas. Her milquetoast manager
at work, Mahdav (Sam Dastor), sees her solely as a sex object. Father Dyson
clearly has romantic designs on her, but his controlling nature (subtle at the
outset, less so later) eventually drives her into unexpected arms. Even
the genial Mike – who despite initial doubts as to his intentions, appears to be
wholly sincere in his feelings for Valerie – ultimately undermines his
credibility by ruthlessly exploiting the traumas in her life in the lyrics to
one of his songs.
Carol White had a fairly
varied career where screen roles were concerned, yet due to films like Poor Cow, Dulcima and Some Call it
Loving, I uncharitably tend to associate her with gloomy dramas. But as
gloomy dramas go, in this one she’s superb and I’d probably cite poor,
life-battered Valerie as representing one of her finest film performances. As
Mike, singer/songwriter Roy Harper (who composed several of the musical numbers
especially for the film) is also exceptionally good. From the moment we first
encounter him – being interviewed on Brighton seafront by legendary music
presenter "Whispering" Bob Harris – he oozes charisma and it's easy
to see why Valerie would be drawn to him. But for me the real standout is
sad-eyed Margery Mason as Valerie's ailing mother. One scene in particular, in
which she tries to console Valerie following a dreadful turn of events, is
truly heartbreaking. (As an aside, noting that Mason lived to the ripe age of
100 whereas White passed away prematurely at just 48 certainly gives one pause to
ponder the big old lottery of life.)
receipt of Vinegar Syndrome’s new Blu-Ray edition of Mardi Rustam’s “Evils of
the Night” (1985), I was reminded of a tired cliché drilled into my head as a
child: Don’t judge a book by its cover. The cover art, designed by Terry Levine,
a friend of Rustam’s, invokes the stereotypical “sex-crazed teens trapped in a
world of terror” vibe that horror movies of the 1980s were notorious for. However,
I held out hope as I prepared to view the disc but this hope was quickly lost
when “Exploitation TV” appeared on my screen, followed by the silhouette of a
busty woman. Despite this, I still thought: Could this be one of those “so bad
they’re good” cult classics that fans love to revisit? After all, the film
featured such well-known and respectable actors as John Carradine, Julie
Newmar, and Tina Louise, as well as fan favorites Neville Brand and Aldo Ray.
However, since these actors had only about fifteen minutes of screen time combined, we’re mostly left with a
troupe of young actors and actresses whose inexperience is not only
demonstrated on screen but also with their non-existent IMDB filmographies. Now,
after seeing the film, I am relatively certain that Carradine, Newmar, and
Louise, were very happy to be minimally involved in this mess passed off as a horror
film’s plotting is unclear and slow moving, with the first half hour of the
movie dedicated solely to embarrassingly non-erotic sex scenes included solely to
titillate the young (and male) audience of the time (Within the first fifteen
minutes, I had closed my laptop twice
in pure disgust). Even if you can make it past the first half hour of pure soft-core
pornography (actress Amber Lynn, who plays Joyce, was a fairly well-known star
in many adult films), you’re still left with a story that is underdeveloped and/or
pretty much defies logical explanation. It’s difficult to even identify the
main character(s) well into the film, as the multiple story threads go nowhere. Which group of teenagers will prevail over
the aliens and their minions, the grease monkey lackeys? More importantly, who cares? At the one hour
mark, I had to reread the back of the disc’s case to remind myself what was
going on, since none of the villains actually announced intentions for the
kidnapped teens. Although it was the intention (I think) of the filmmaker to
tell the story of vampire aliens requiring teen blood to remain youthful, we’re
left only with excessive sex-scenes and hard-to-follow ludicrous “scientific”
discussions between aliens. In an
interview included as a bonus on the disc, Rustam says that he considered “Evils
of the Night” as a horror remake of “The Day the Earth Stood Still” (1951). He wishes.
would say Rustam hit a triple with “Evils of the Night.” His film is combines
bad writing, acting, and direction. However, according to the filmmaker at
least, the movie did well financially and he himself was mostly happy with the
finished product. (To be fair, “Evils of
the Night” was the first film he’d directed). In an interview recorded eight
years following the film’s release, Rustam said, “I believe it is still a good
movie for its period. I might go see again this month.” I agree with Rustam that
the film is a product of its time. Although I doubt a film such as this could
possibly break into today’s market, its “ample nudity and moments of splattery
gore” do mark it as a true horror film of the 1980s. However, unlike director Rustam,
it’s doubtful I will revisit this film within the month— if ever again.
Olive Films has released a Blu-ray edition of the little-remembered and rarely seen 1979 film "The Outsider", a powerful drama directed by Tony Luraschi , who seemingly had a bright career but who, instead seems to have fallen into obscurity. This seems to be one of only two films he was ever credited with. The reasons for this remain unclear, given the fact that "The Outsider" is a powerful film that has retained its bite over the decades. One can only wonder why a work of such passion could not have inspired its director to continue to direct movies, although perhaps fate prevented him from doing so. (If any readers has any information to share about this, please let us know.) The film is set in Northern Ireland during the height of "The Troubles", that seemingly endless period of time when nation was torn apart by state of virtual civil was. The IRA routinely battled British forces on the streets of major cities, turning urban centers into virtual war zones at times. There were also loyalist paramilitary groups that did not want independence for Northern Ireland and who wanted to stay loyal to the crown. The end result was a series of bombings, gun battles and kidnappings that ultimately took thousands of lives and left the civilian population in grave danger. The Good Friday peace agreement, brokered by Prime Minister Tony Blair with enthusiastic backing of President Bill Clinton, finally brought about an end to most of the violence but this didn't take place until 1998 and until then, the bloody legacy of Irish fighting Irish forever seared the nation's history.
In "The Outsider", Craig Wasson plays Michael Flaherty, a disillusioned Vietnam War veteran of Irish descent who grew up under the spell of his grandfather (Sterling Hayden), who continues to relate stories about his glory days serving in the IRA and carrying out dangerous missions against the British. Michael decides to make his grandfather proud by leaving the family home in Detroit to join up with the IRA. He manages to make the proper contacts and when he gets to Ireland, he is promptly met by members of an IRA group located in the Catholic dominated Republic of Ireland. Here his new comrades greet him politely but warily and with good reason: traitors are not uncommon in the movement and there is suspicion Michael might be a British plant. Finally convinced he is sincere, they move him from safe house to safe house, much to his frustration. Michael is eager to see action against the British but all he gets are delays. After griping that he feels he is wasting his time, the IRA commander sends him and another agent on a mission that requires them to cross the border into Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK and the geographical area where most of the acts of violence are carried out in the quest to have both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland reunited as one country, independent of British rule. When Michael arrives in Belfast, he finds the city resembling a war zone with bombed-out buildings and an occupying force of machine gun-carrying British forces on seemingly every corner. While he awaits his orders for the mission, he meets and strikes up a romantic relationship with Siobahn (Patricia Quinn), a firebrand of a young woman who hates the British for killing her younger brother. Although she is not officially with the IRA, she is trusted by them and provides cover for their actions. As Michael impatiently awaits making himself useful, a cruel deception is under way. The local IRA commander has come to the conclusion that Michael could be more valuable dead than alive. He theorizes that if the IRA murders him and frames the British, the result will outrage Irish American sympathizers in the USA who would then increase their monetary donations to the group. Simultaneously, the local British commander (Geoffrey Palmer) has had Michael under surveillance and has also concluded that he could be quite valuable dead- especially if the blame could be placed on his IRA comrades. Meanwhile, Michael is oblivious to all this and is finally given orders to proceed on a mission- but it's one that is intended to be his last. The film ends with a shocking revelation relating to Michael's family that sets up an emotional last scene.
"The Outsider" is a highly accomplished work and is superbly directed by the aforementioned Tony Luraschi. It's a pity that, for whatever reason, he never chose or perhaps had the opportunity to continue making films. The movie is also outstanding in terms of casting with even minor roles played so convincingly that at times you would be forgiven for thinking you were watching a documentary. The story does manage to deftly tip-toe through the tulips when it comes to passing judgment on the political implications of the events depicted. Both the British military and the IRA members are presented in an unflattering light. How you react to the film probably depends on your personal view of the politics involved. After all, one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. If there is a criticism of the film, it's related to the script, which is unrelentingly downbeat. Surely even IRA members managed to have a laugh and a joke occasionally in a pub but in "The Outsider", everyone is downbeat, depressed and paranoid. Still, the Olive Films Blu-ray is most welcome and very highly recommended. There is only one disappointment: the presentation is bare bones. With a film associated with this much controversy, there should have been a commentary track with scholars who can discuss Ireland's infamous "Troubles" so that the script can be discussed in context. Highly Recommended.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment:
Horror fans are sure to rejoice when a terrifying trio of
Stephen King’s screen adaptations -- “Salem’s Lot,” “Stephen King’s Cat’s Eye”
and “Stephen King’s It” (a best-seller on DVD and one of King’s most popular TV
miniseries) – debuts with all-new 2016 high definition masters on Blu-ray™ from
Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, just in time for a haunting Halloween on
The three films based on the best-selling author’s novels
and short stories are among his most popular and feature a variety of film and
TV stars, including Drew Barrymore, Tim Curry, James Mason, Richard Masur,
Annette O’Toole, John Ritter, David Soul, Richard Thomas and James Woods, among
others. Each title will be available to own on Blu-ray for $14.97 SRP.
Stephen King is the author of more than 50 books, all of
them worldwide bestsellers. In addition to these new Blu-ray titles, some of
his most noted works include Carrie, The Shining, Pet Sematary, The Dead Zone,
Misery, The Green Mile, The Stand, and The Shawshank Redemption. Recent work
includes End of Watch, The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, Finders Keepers, Mr. Mercedes,
Doctor Sleep, and Under the Dome. King’s books have been translated into 33
different languages and have been published in over 35 different countries. The
recipient of the 2014 National Medal of Arts and the
2003 National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished
Contribution to American Letters, King lives in Maine and Florida with his
wife, novelist Tabitha King.1 The author’s 11.22.63, produced by
J.J. Abrams and starring James Franco, is currently
available on Blu-ray™ from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.
About the Films:
“Salem’s Lot” (1979)
Sinister events bring together a writer (David Soul)
fascinated with an old hilltop house; a suave antiques dealer (James Mason)
whose expertise goes beyond bric-a-brac; and the dealer’s mysterious,
pale-skinned “partner” (Reggie Nalder) in “Salem’s Lot” -- a blood-curdling
shocker based on King’s novel and directed by Tobe Hooper (Poltergeist).
• All-new Feature-Length Audio Commentary by Director Tobe
A wandering supernatural feline’s adventures provide the
linking story for “Stephen King‘s Cat's Eye” -- a dead-on ‘thrillogy’ scripted by King and directed
by Lewis Teague (Cujo). The staff at Quitters Inc. promises to help nicotine
fiend Dick Morrison (James Woods) kick the habit. Next, a luckless gambler
(Robert Hays) is forced into a bet involving a stroll around a building – on
the five-inch ledge encircling the 30th floor. Finally, our wayfarer kitty
rescues a schoolgirl (Drew Barrymore) from a vile, doll-sized troll.
• Feature-Length Commentary by Director Lewis Teague
October 1957: "It" awakens and the small town of
Darry, Maine will never be the same. Stephen King brings to life every childhood
fear and phobia as seven children face an unthinkable horror which appears in
various forms, including “Pennywise” (Tim Curry), a clown who lives, hunts and
kills from the towns sewers. Years later, the surviving adults who are brave
enough return to stop the new killing spree, this time for good.
• Commentary by Director Tommy Lee Wallace and Actors Dennis
Christopher, Tim Reid, John Ritter and Richard Thomas
Here's a real find on YouTube: color behind-the-scenes footage from the 1962 D-Day classic "The Longest Day". It's a hodgepodge of disjointed silent clips showing wounded British soldiers, a glider and Ken Annakin directing Peter Lawford and Richard Todd in the battle for a bridge.
Many a director and/or star of hardcore porn movies has fantasized about establishing a career in mainstream cinema. Many have tried but few have achieved this goal. Among those who aspired to greater heights was Carlos Tobalina, who had established himself as one of the more innovative and stylish directors of porn flicks in the 1980s. Tobalina's micro-budget productions attempted to go beyond the low demands of the "raincoats-across-the-lap" crowd. Tobalina would attempt to present more fully fleshed-out story lines and occasionally succeeded in getting credible performances from his cast members. His films were relatively high budget at the time due to extensive location shoots. He was also an aspiring actor and would appear in small roles in his own films. By 1985, Tobalina felt the time was right to make his move into mainstream fare. The VHS revolution was now in full swing and suddenly consumers could watch porn in the privacy of their own homes without having to slip into a local X-rated theater in the hopes of not being recognized by friends and neighbors. Soon, porn movies would mostly be shot directly for the home video market, resulting in even lower production standards and films that could be shot in a matter of hours instead of days or weeks. The home video revolution would virtually ensure the death knell of grind house movie theaters that specialized in hardcore flicks. Perhaps Tabolina saw the writing on the wall when he went full throttle with his most ambitious project, a crime thriller titled "Flesh and Bullets". In reality, the movie had an earlier incarnation, "The Wife Contract". Both versions were unacknowledged remakes of Alfred Hitchcock's classic "Strangers on a Train" which presented the delicious concept of a man who encounters an eccentric fellow traveler in a private car on a commuter train. The two men in Hitchcock's film pass the time of day by debating whether a perfect crime could be committed. They agree that if the murderer had no prior connection to the victim, it could. The men both lay out a playful scenario in which they each name a person they would like the other man to kill in a morbid pact. One of the men clearly believes it was all a sick joke-until the person he named as his intended victim turns up dead and his "friend" from the train now expects him to commit murder as his part of the pact. Tobalina's film presents a different scenario based on the same concept. Roy (Glenn McKay) is a distraught man who is going through the strains of providing alimony and child support for his ex-wife Dolores (Cydney Hill) and their young daughter Gina (Gina Tobalina, you-know-who's real life daughter). Jeff (Mick Morrow) is also in dire straits trying to pay alimony to his ex, Gail (Susan Silvers). The two men have a chance meeting in a Las Vegas bar and form a pact to kill each other's spouse. Both of them have some experience with death. Roy has seen action in Vietnam and Jeff confides he once murdered two gay wrestlers who raped him (they are rather insensitively listed in the final credits as "Homo Wrestlers"!). To ensure that they each carry out their part of the pact, they agree that if either of them fails to do so, he will be marked for death by the other man.
Mai Lin is among the adult film stars who make cameos in the film.
Tobalina had a fool-proof scenario on which to base his film...after all, Hitchcock had ironed out most of the kinks. The screenplay, also written by Tobalina, follows the efforts of Roy and Jeff to ingratiate themselves to the other man's wife. In doing so, they both unexpectedly fall in love with the woman they have promised to kill. Yet, if they don't carry out the murder, they will be marked for death themselves. Tabolina does the best he can with his limited resources but although he may have had more talent than the average porn director, the crudeness of his techniques and clunky production values make it clear that the movie was shot by an amateur. Tobalina tries to paper over this fact with a few distractions by casting some porn actresses in small legit roles in order to use their names in the promotional materials, but their core fans will be disappointed because this is one Tobalina production that has a bare minimum of sex and nudity. Tobalina also goes with the old misleading trick of getting some veteran actors involved in the film. Thus, we see "special performances" by Yvonne De Carlo, Cesar Romero, Aldo Ray and Cornel Wilde, mostly in blink-and-you'll miss them roles that were inserted to simply give the film a bit of Hollywood glam. (Cult actor Robert Z'Dar also appears). Tabolina also had to shoot some of the film on the fly as certain locations obviously required permits he couldn't or wouldn't obtain. There are also some miscued sound effects that prove to be distracting. The performances range from laughably bad to adequate, with even old pros Wilde and Ray looking like they were filmed in a first read through of the script. (Sadly, this proved to be Wilde's final film appearance. He looks suitably embarrassed and even had to suffer the indignity of having his name misspelled in the final credits!) Leading man Glenn McKay is very much of the beefy, hirsute hunks who were all the rage in the era of "Magnum P.I." His co-star Mick Morrow, however, suffers the distraction of having one of the most unbecoming hair styles ever seen on film, thus making him look like a cross between a Medieval page boy and Farrah Fawcett. Not surprisingly, neither McKay or Morrow has any other on-screen appearance in their credits. The film is not without its enjoyable elements, however. The plot is consistently engrossing and you tend to give special dispensation to all involved for working with a tiny budget and low-end production values. Where Tabolina, the screenwriter, blows it is in the final sequence which could have been dramatically effective. However, he wimps out and goes the way of a happy ending that makes the viewer feel cheated.
The Vinegar Syndrome release, which has salvaged the film from obscurity, is first rate. The transfer looks terrific and there is the welcome inclusion of Tobalina's original cut of the film, "The Wife Contract". Granted, they have had to resort to using a grainy Dutch VHS copy as the master, but the language is in English and it does provide an interesting look of how Tabolina drastically recut the movie for its final version. An original trailer, hosted by Cesar Romero and playing up the genuine stars, is also included though if the film ever did manage to find some play dates in theaters, they must have been few and far between. It's hard to recommend "Flesh and Bullets" as mainstream entertainment but, as a retro curiosity of a director's bold but failed attempt to break into the mainstream, it is certainly worth a look.
It took Sean Connery years to successfully cast aside the shadow of James Bond and establish himself as a diverse actor. Connery had made some fine non-Bond films even during the peak of 007 mania - The Hill, Woman of Straw, A Fine Madness and Marnie. Each of these worthy efforts afforded Connery a role that was significantly different than that of Bond but, much to his frustration, all of them were box-office disappointments, although he did have the satisfaction of seeing The Hill win international acclaim. When Connery left the Bond series in 1968, he made some more fine films. The Western Shalako was an international box-office success, as was The Anderson Tapes, which cast him as a charismatic crook. Yet, Martin Ritt's The Molly Maguires, an ambitious film about exploited coal miners, failed to click with audiences, as did The Red Tent, which afforded Connery top-billing even though he only had a supporting role. Connery returned to the Bond fold in 1971 for Diamonds Are Forever and then quit the part once again. He gave one of the finest performances of his career in Sidney Lumet's micro-budget drama The Offence, but it played in only a few art houses before slipping into oblivion. John Boorman's Zardoz, which has attracted a cult following today, was a critical and box-office flop at the time of its release, as was a minor Connery thriller The Terrorists (aka Ransom). But Connery was not about to be counted out. He scored with Murder on the Orient Express, The Wind and the Lion, Robin and Marian, The Great Train Robbery and, most significantly, The Man Who Would Be King. All were critical successes even if they were not blockbusters. Connery also played a key role in the WWII epic A Bridge Too Far, a fine and underrated film. Soon thereafter, however, his choice of film projects became erratic. Although the films Cuba, Wrong is Right and Outland all under-performed at the box-office, they at least afforded him the opportunity to work with acclaimed directors Richard Lester, Richard Brooks and Peter Hyams, respectively. But the cheesy disaster flick Meteor could only be attributed to the desire to make a fast buck.
As Connery matured as a man and actor he still would take on films with limited commercial appeal if he felt the project was artistically rewarding. This was the case with the 1982 film Five Days One Summer which proved to be the final cinematic work of Oscar-winning director Fred Zinnemann, who had made such classics as High Noon and From Here to Eternity. Zinnemann had scored a late career triumph in 1977 with Julia but hadn't made a film since. The movie was an odd choice for both men since the story was small in scale and seemed to have no hope of attracting mainstream audiences. Five Days is very much an art house movie that was nevertheless given wide release based solely on Connery's presence as the leading man. Predictably, it had a quick playoff to largely empty theaters but perhaps more surprisingly, the critics who had lauded Zinnemann with praise for Julia now accused him of making a film that was too small in scope for a collaborative project with Sean Connery. Zinnemann was seventy-four years old when he made the movie and perhaps he felt he had paid his dues to the big studios over the decades. Now in the twilight of his years he might have simply wanted to make a very personal film that appealed to him, if not everyone else. The script is based on a 1929 short story, Maiden Maiden by Kay Boyle. The film was shot under this title before the decision was made to change it to the equally ambiguous Five Days One Summer. In fact, Maiden Maiden was a more intriguing title because it has a dual reference. The first is the the female protagonist of the story and the second is to The Maiden, an imposing mountain in the Swiss Alps where some dramatic events occur. The story concerns the taboo relationship between Kate (Betsy Brantley), an attractive young woman in her mid-twenties and her uncle Douglas (Sean Connery), a successful doctor in his fifties. Since she was a little girl Kate has had an uncontrollable crush on Douglas and as she grew older, came to resent his wife Sarah (Jennifer Hilary). Director Zinnemann zig-zags back and forth in time to show how a schoolgirl crush developed into a forbidden sexual relationship that finds Kate excluding any other potential lover in favor of Douglas. She alternates between joy and depression, the latter mood hitting her whenever she dwells on the fact that she can never be in anything but a secret relationship with the man she loves. Even if Douglas were to get a divorce, the incestuous love affair could never be made public.
The main part of the film concerns Douglas and Kate pulling off a risky holiday trip that will allow them to spend time together in a remote lodge in the Swiss Alps where they can indulge in their mutual passion for hiking and climbing. To avoid any suspicions, she poses as Douglas's wife in a May/December romance. At first she is as giddy as a schoolgirl because she can finally share a bed with Douglas and they can openly express affection for each other. Things get complicated, however, when their hiking guide turns out to be Johann (Lambert Wilson), a handsome young man who is Kate's age. From minute one he awakens long suppressed sexual desires in her for someone other than Douglas, who immediately perceives the unspoken attraction between the two. The trio enjoy a cordial and professional relationship as the hike and take in the scenic wonders around them. However, Johann becomes more forthright when he learns that Kate isn't married to Douglas (though she does not confide he is her uncle). Johann is outraged and tries to convince her to leave him, telling her that she is in a dead-end love affair with a married man that can't end well. Meanwhile, on a dangerous hike with Douglas, Johann also confronts him while they are atop the summit of the Maiden (not the most opportune place to have an argument with each other.) Douglas maintains that he is not using Kate and really loves her. Meanwhile, she has made up her mind to leave Douglas and marry Johann. Before she can give Douglas a "Dear John" letter, word comes that there has been a disaster on the mountain and that one of the men in her life has been killed in an avalanche. In the final scene, she sees a distant figure emerging from the snowy mountain landscape, staggering towards her and a group of rescuers. Is it her lover or her would-be lover? Either way, the result will affect her life in a dramatic way forever.
"Five Days One Summer" has been likened to the German "mountain romances" that were enormously popular in pre-WWII Germany. These films were known to have skimpy plots but magnificent scenery. If critics were kind to any aspect of the movie, it was Giussepe Rotunno's impressive cinematographer. Most reviewers wondered what it was about this modest story that appealed to Fred Zinnemann, who worked infrequently but generally made "important" movies. Despite the low-key nature of the scenario that unfolds on-screen, there is much to like about the film. The performances are first-rate with newcomers Brantley and Wilson making both faring well in their first major roles in a feature film. (Ironically, Wilson screen-tested for the role of James Bond in "Octopussy" when it seemed doubtful that Roger Moore would return to the 007 franchise.) Connery dominates the film, however, with an excellent performance playing a complex character who at times is sympathetic and at other times somewhat of a villain. He's all superficial charm but he cruelly risks destroying his niece's own life by using her as a bed mate. There's no doubt he loves her, but it's clear he isn't about to endanger his marriage to be closer to her. When she finally expresses her frustration and threatens to leave him for Johann, he reacts violently and slaps her. Equally complex is the character of Kate. We're left to speculate as to just why her obsession with Douglas has presumably led to the exclusion of any other men in her life. In this respect, the script is either lacking or intriguing, depending upon the views of individuals in the audience. The only easily definable character is that of Johann. He's a young man of simple means who has no interest in the world outside of the immediate domain in which he was raised. When he is smitten by Kate, his goal isn't to share her life experiences but rather, to incorporate her into his own world. In this respect, Kate's choices of lovers have one thing in common: they both want her to submit to their ideas about what is in her best interests. Douglas has clearly deluded himself into believing that his relationship with Kate is not harmful to her. Johann offers her a more independent, traditional life but still makes it clear that if she marries him, she would have to be content to live in a beautiful but remote mountain region. The end of the tale finds Kate finally exerting her own will and finding a determination to pursue her own destiny.
"Five Days One Summer" is barely remembered, let alone discussed, in evaluations of Sean Connery and Fred Zinnemann's careers. However that shouldn't negate its many merits. I liked the film far more today than I did upon its initial release. The Warner Archive has released the film on DVD. The transfer is a bit problematic. Some of the sequences in the lush mountain areas do justice to the magnificent cinematography but certain other scenes have excessive grain. Additionally, interiors are over-saturated to the point that characters who are seen in dimly lit rooms are sometimes reduced to shadowy blobs. The film is a prime candidate for a Blu-ray, remastered edition. The only bonus extra is the original trailer. It is a region-free release.
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Vinegar Syndrome has done it again. They’ve
unearthed another rare, almost forgotten 70s flick for our viewing pleasure and
I couldn’t be happier. This time it’s the wholly mistitled, but extremely
interesting 1972 whodunit, Night of the
Directed by Joy N. Houck, Jr. (Night of Bloody Horror, Creature from Black
Lake), Night of the Strangler begins
when a pregnant, young woman (Susan McCullough) returns home to New Orleans and
breaks the news to her racist brother, Dan (James Ralston from What’s Love Got to Do with It), that the
father of her child is black. Dan flips out, begins beating her and even
threatens to kill both her and her boyfriend before being stopped by younger
brother Vance (The Monkees’Mickey
Dolenz). Not long after, the sister’s boyfriend is killed by a sniper (Patrick
Wright from Revenge of the Cheerleaders).
This horrible act sets off a chain of gruesome murders that has homicide
lieutenant De Vivo (Michael Anthony) baffled. Can the clueless lawman find the
murderer before he kills again and again and again?
Although the title would have you believe
that you are about to watch a horror movie, Night
of the Strangler is more of a mystery thriller influenced by awful,
real-life events such as the assassinations of JFK and Martin Luther King; not
to mention the Vietnam War. The title makes no sense as there are no strangulations
in the entire film. There are shootings, stabbings, drowning; even death by
snakebite and poisonous arrows, but absolutely no strangling. So, is the movie
any good? I very much enjoyed it. Filmed in New Orleans, this well-done,
low-budget feature will definitely keep you guessing. I wouldn’t go so far as
to say that it’s a lost classic, but it’s a pretty engaging, solidly written and
directed movie with decent characterizations, which also benefits from some
wonderful performances. To begin with, Mickey Dolenz is terrific as the
understanding and peaceful younger brother. Dolenz comes off as extremely
likeable and even a little humorous in spots. Up next, James Ralston gives a
fun, over-the-top performance as the racist and almost sociopathic Dan. Ralston
gives it everything he’s got and he really makes you hate this character. Also,
Michael Anthony is pleasant and convincing in his role as Lt. De Vivo and
there’s a nicely balanced performance by Chuck Patterson (The Five Heartbeats) as a benevolent priest.
Night of the
been released on DVD (for the very first time) by Vinegar Syndrome. The disc is
region free and the movie is presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio.
There are no special features. The film print itself (which has been scanned
and restored in 2K from The American Genre Film Archive’s 35mm theatrical
print) is mostly filled with excellent-looking, extremely clear images, but
does contain a few scratchy/grainy moments. This, however, does not detract
from the viewing experience one bit. As a matter of fact, it seems appropriate
being that this flick is really a nice piece of retro grindhouse cinema. If,
like me, you’re an obscure cinema enthusiast; especially from the 1970s, I
recommend taking a look at Night of the
Universal has released "Counterpoint", the 1967 film that Charlton Heston fans have long sought on DVD. The WWII drama requires a bit of historical context before getting into the main plot. By December 1944, the Third Reich was crumbling rapidly. Allied forces were on the doorstep of Germany itself and victory was assumed to be only a matter of weeks away. However, Adolf Hitler had an ace up his sleeve. On December 16 he unleashed a massive secret reserve of tank forces in a surprise attack on Americans in Belgium. The Yanks were caught completely off guard as Panzers raced toward their goal of recapturing the port city of Antwerp. Hitler knew that if he succeeded in taking possession of this strategic city he could prolong the war indefinitely. Because German forces had to move at a lightning pace before Americans could regroup, they were given grim orders from the high command to execute prisoners because they could not spare the resources to imprison and care for them. This resulted in the infamous Malmedy Massacre in which dozens of American POW's were shot dead by German troops. (Bill O'Reilly of Fox News is responsible for bungling history and causing outrage for claiming in 2006 on his TV show that it was helpless German troops who were slaughtered by Americans- a "fact" still believed by many who heard the segment.) What is true is that Americans retaliated with identical orders and there were instances of German who were shot dead after surrendering. Ultimately, Hitler's bold gamble, which became known as The Battle of the Bulge, failed. After strong initial success, due largely to the fact that the U.S. air corps was grounded due to poor weather, the tide turned. The weather improved and the Americans had mastery of the skies. They took a devastating toll on the Panzer corps, which itself was starved for fuel. Ultimately, the entire strategy was deemed one of the worst military blunders in history. Hitler had expended his last reserves that could have been used to defend Germany. Defeat followed and within six months, Hitler would commit suicide and his "Thousand Year Reich" would have lasted less than a decade.
It is against this intriguing backdrop that the plot of "Counterpoint" (which was filmed under the title "Battle Horns") takes place. The film opens immediately before the German counter-offensive. With victory in sight, complacent Americans feel comfortable inviting USO troupes into Belgium to entertain the G.Is. Among them is a world famous symphonic orchestra led by its larger-than-life conductor Lionel Evans (Charlton Heston). The maestro is conducting a concert in the ruins of bombed out palace when a sudden German bombardment throws everything into chaos. As American troops rush to gather arms, the 70 member orchestra attempts to flee in a bus. They are captured within minutes and taken to an ancient cathedral that serves as the command HQ of German General Schiller (Maximillian Schell). His second-in-command, Col. Arndt (Anton Diffring) has already been executing American prisoners and intends to do the same with the members of the orchestra, despite Evans' protests that they are civilians. Before the execution can take place, their lives are spared by Schiller, who has an appreciation for classical music and who admires Evans, having seen him conduct before the war. Schiller proposes a deal to Evans: he will spare everyone's life if he agrees to stage a private concert for Schiller. Evans, a headstrong, arrogant man, refuses. He suspects that Schiller will kill the musicians anyway and does not want to give him the satisfaction of having them perform for him. A battle of wills begins between two equally stubborn men. Complicating matters for Evans is the fact that two American soldiers are masquerading as members of the orchestra. Then there is the additional complication of Evans' relationship with cellist Anabelle Rice (Kathryn Hays). The two were once lovers but Annabelle left Evans to marry Victor Rice (Leslie Nielsen), who is Evans' assistant conductor. Evans is still carrying a torch for her and when the troupe is imprisoned in a dank basement within the cathedral, old tensions between the two arise once more. Schiller first tries to woo Evans by treating everyone humanely and ensuring they are comfortable and well-fed. However, he makes it clear that time is running out, as he must join forces at the front line. Ultimately, Evans relents due to pleas from his orchestra members who are on the verge of panic. However, he cautions that they will be killed as soon as the concert ends. He is correct, as Schiller has agreed to turn the orchestra over to Col. Arndt, who has already had a mass grave dug in anticipation of the executions. Evans buys as much time as possible by telling Schiller the troupe needs extensive rehearsals. During this period, he helps the two G.I.'s attempt to escape. He also secures access to a pistol and devises a plan in which the orchestra will resist their executioners and attempt to escape in the bus as soon as Schiller's concert has ended. They will be aided by a small group of Belgian partisans who will launch a diversionary attack.
"Counterpoint" represented only one in a list of films in which Charlton Heston played characters who were arrogant, conceited and often self-absorbed. (i.e "The War Lord", "Khartoum", "Planet of the Apes", "Number One", "The Hawaiians" ). As Evans he selfishly risks the lives of dozens of people rather than to lose face in his psychological war of wills with Schiller. Refreshingly, when the final shoot-out takes place, Evans doesn't transform into a typical Heston action hero and it's amusing to watch the future president of the NRA have to be coached in how to use a hand gun. The film was shot on the cheap, as so many Universal productions were during this era. Literally every frame was filmed on the studio back lot, but because of the claustrophobic nature of the script, the overall impact isn't diminished by the penny-pinching. Heston gives a powerful performance as one of the more flawed characters he has played and he is quite convincing in scenes in which he conducts the orchestra. He is matched by Maximillan Schell, who is all superficial charm and charisma. Kathryn Hays is quite good as the woman caught between two lovers and Leslie Nielsen reminds us that he was once a good dramatic actor before going the "Naked Gun" route late in his career. Ralph Nelson directs the intelligent screenplay and milks a good deal of tension from certain scenarios and an additional pleasure is hearing classical music played so brilliantly. "Counterpoint" may not be a classic but the offbeat nature of the story, combined with the talents of an inspired cast, make it a winner.
The Universal DVD is as bare bones as usual with nary a single bonus feature but the transfer is excellent.
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With so few quality roles afforded to actors of a certain age bracket, I looked forward to viewing "Grandma", the 2015 independent film that won very favorable reviews for Lily Tomlin in the title role. Indeed, Tomlin received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress and the film was named one of the ten best independent movies of the year by the prestigious National Board of Review. Thus, I approached the film, which was written and directed by Paul Weitz, with a positive attitude and optimistic expectations. That mood lasted about three minutes into the movie when we are introduced to Elle (Tomlin), an older but still very independent woman who was a firebrand in her day. She received a bit of fame for her provocative poetry but in recent decades hasn't written anything of merit. In fact, she hasn't written anything at all for the last four years. The first we see of Elle, she is cruelly breaking up her relationship with her decades-younger lesbian lover, Olivia (Judy Greer) and informs her to leave her keys to their apartment and get out. Elle doesn't say specifically when she is intent on breaking the younger woman's heart but when Olive reluctantly leaves, Elle breaks down crying. Did she act like a villain in order to do what she felt was best for Olive in the long run? Presumably so, but as we follow Elle around in the course of one long day, it becomes apparent that this off-the-wall counterculture type does indeed possess a mean temper that can flare up at a moment's notice and over the slightest perceived provocation. Elle gets plenty provoked, too, when her teenage granddaughter Sage (Julia Garner) turns up on her doorstep to ask for $600 so she can get an abortion later that afternoon. She's too afraid to tell her own mother, Judy (Marcia Gay Harden), a single mother who is a successful business executive with little time for anyone but her colleagues. We learn that Lily gave birth to Judy after becoming pregnant through a artificial insemination. Judy was raised by Elle and the love of her life, Vi, who now been dead for a number of years, a tragedy that Elle has never fully recovered from. One might think that the sight of her own granddaughter in desperate straits might solicit some sympathy from Elle, but instead she tosses out obscene insults to the young girl. But don't feel too sorry for Sage...she's got a foul mouth of her own. Thus, our introduction to the two main protagonists of the story is through a stream of vile obscenities and insults. I realized early on that I still had an entire movie to spend with these less-than-lovable characters. Indeed, things only go downhill from there...and fast.
Screenwriter Weitz practically twists himself into a pretzel to rationalize some very irrational behavior on the part of Elle and Sage. For starters, although Elle seems to be living comfortably in a fairy nice apartment, she informs Sage that her entire net worth is only about $40. The fact that a woman in her seventies who is living in L.A. would be worth only $40 is ludicrous to the point of distraction. The script provides an explanation: Elle was tired of being in debt for medical bills relating to Vi's care so she used every penny of savings to pay off that debt. Uh-huh. When Sage asks the obvious question- doesn't she have credit cards- Elle explains that she cut them up as a symbolic act and turned the shredded cards into a decorative piece of art. Uh-huh. Elle nevertheless agrees to assist her granddaughter in raising the required cash. They pile into her ancient, mechanically-challenged automobile and set off to visit Sage's boyfriend who promised to get the money for the abortion. They find him to be a self-centered, uncaring cynic. So Grandma does what grandmas do best- she slams the boyfriend in the crotch, causing him much pain and also inspiring this writer to once again make a plea to script writers: the "shot in the crotch" joke was funny just once. It was way back in 1969 when Paul Newman kicked Ted Cassidy where it hurts in "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid". Ever since then, it's been a cheap mechanism to get an even cheaper laugh. Please retire this tired device. Next stop on the Elle/Sage road trip to through Hell is a visit to a free clinic where destitute young women can get abortions. Sounds sensible. However, when they arrive at the location they discover the clinic has closed or moved and has been replaced by a boutique coffee shop. Neither Elle or Sage has enough smarts to take the obvious course of action: simply Google "women's clinics" on Sage's cell phone to find out where they alternately get the procedure done. Instead, they decide to patronize the coffee shop where Elle lets loose with a loud stream of obscenities. When the owner politely asks them to leave, Elle goes into a tirade of more obscenities. Presumably this is to further establish her anti-Establishment credentials and endear her to the audience. ("Hey, Granny's still got it!") The attempt fails, however, for the simple reason that no sane person would enjoy sitting in a coffee shop listening to some ex-hippie blather filthy language. Elle and Sage next visit one of Elle's friends who had expressed an interest in buying some presumably rare first edition books that Elle hopes will cover the cost of Sage's abortion. When the woman offers her only $50, Elle goes into another tirade of obscenities- despite the fact that Sage had researched the value of the books and informed her they were almost worthless.
The film goes into a new direction when, out of desperation, Elle decides to visit her ex-husband Karl (Sam Elliott) in the hopes of getting some cash. They haven't seen each other in many years and since they've been divorced Sam has been through several marriages. At first their reunion is civil but when Karl agrees to give the money, there is a caveat: he wants some fast sex. Elle refuses and a Pandora's Box of old resentments spills out into the open, with Karl still angry that his wife turned out to be unfaithful- and a lesbian, to boot. Elle finally shames him into parting with the money but when he learns it's for an abortion, he relents on moral grounds, which in the eyes of screenwriter Weitz immediately makes him a villainous character. (Even if you're politically and socially liberal, the heavy-handed propaganda messages contained in the script will probably make you roll your eyes.) Ultimately, Elle and Sage reluctantly visit Sage's mother Judy at her place of business. It's a sterile environment and we see that, as an executive, she has the reputation of a female Captain Bligh. She and Elle have been estranged for quite some time and Judy is non-too-happy to learn her daughter needs an abortion. Like Elle and Sage, Judy peppers her sentences with obscenities, thus indicating that the acorns don't fall far from the tree in this family. Ultimately, everyone ends up at the abortion clinic but not before screenwriter Weitz can insert another political dig: Elle encounters a young mother and her adorable looking little daughter outside the clinic where the mom is protesting abortions. When Elle tries to make nice with the little girl, she receives a black eye. It might strike one as being tasteless to use a small child to make a political statement but everyone in Grandma is vile and vulgar, so why should the toddlers be any different? In the last fifteen minutes or so, the problems are resolved and Elle makes up with Olivia. It's the only section of the film in which the characters are given anything close to admirable human emotions but it's too little too late.
Grandma is an offensive film and I say that as someone who routinely reviews vintage X-rated fare for this web site. The difference is that outright pornography isn't pretentious but Grandma certainly is. Paul Weitz can be commended for inspiring his actors to give excellent performances but the value of the production pretty much ends there. I have never met anyone like the people in this film and if I did, I certainly wouldn't want to be in their company for one minute longer than I had to. Why, then, would a viewer want to spend the running time of this film (a mercifully brief 79 minutes) digesting a barrage of filthy language spouted by unsympathetic characters? Even Sage, a young girl facing a great trauma, comes across as a vile ingrate, making demands more than asking for help. Lily Tomlin still has what it takes to carry a film. To her credit, she doesn't "glam" up her character but still has plenty of charisma. She's a consummate actress and her performance here is admirable. It's just a pity that its contained within a miserable movie about miserable people who treat each other in a miserable fashion.
The Sony Blu-ray contains an audio commentary track with the principals, a cookie-cutter "making of" featurette in which everyone extols the virtues of the people they worked with, a Q&A video from a screening of the film with Tomlin and Elliot and an original trailer.
The year was 1970 and John Wayne was riding tall in the
saddle- both on screen and off. The Duke had recently been awarded his only
Oscar, winning the prestigious honor for his triumphant performance in the 1969
film adaptation of the best-selling novel "True Grit". His first move following
his Oscar win was “Chisum”, a dramatic and exciting Western based on
the Lincoln County Cattle War of 1878 in New Mexico in the days before the territory
gained statehood. Wayne plays the titular character, a legendary cattleman who built an empire that stretched for many miles and employed a significant number of the local population. Chisum was the "big dog" in New Mexico but his power was threatened when businessman Lawrence Murphy began encroaching on his business interests. Ironically the trouble started, not over cattle, but over the control of dry goods. Murphy and his partner James Dolan had a government contract that allowed them a virtual monopoly on selling goods and beef in the area. When a rival general store opened, Chisum backed it and set in motion the events that led to the five-day war which escalated after Chisum found out that Murphy had been responsible for the theft of some of his cattle. The events are played out in "Chisum" and they include some larger-than-life characters including Billy the Kid (Geoffrey Deuel) and Pat Garrett (Glenn Corbett), who were on friendly terms when they worked for Chisum. Years later, Garrett would be the lawman who hunted down and killed Billy. Although there is a good deal of artistic license taken in terms of historical events, screenwriter Andrew J. Fenady has most of the basic facts straight- and why not? The real-life drama was every bit as compelling as any work of fiction.
Wayne wanted a strong film for his Oscar follow-up and "Chisum" fit the bill. It reunited him with frequent collaborator, director Andrew V. McLaglen and included a stock company of actors who were old personal friends including Bruce Cabot, John Agar, Ben Johnson, Ron Soble, Christopher George and Ed Faulkner. It also marked a reunion of sorts for Wayne with his co-stars from the 1949 film "Sands of Iwo Jima" which included Agar, Forrest Tucker and Richard Jaeckel. Wayne also gave small roles to Christopher and John Mitchum, the son and brother of his old pal Robert Mitchum. The film is exceptionally well cast with Tucker in especially fine form as Lawrence Murphy. It took an actor with considerable screen presence to stand up to John Wayne and seem credible and Tucker fits the bill perfectly. Their antagonism starts out as personal insults but as Murphy buys off the local sheriff, William Brady (Bruce Cabot) and orchestrates the killing of competitor Henry Tunstall (Patric Knowles), events escalate rapidly. Billy the Kid takes matters into his own hands and murders Sheriff Brady in revenge for the killing of Tunstall, who was a father figure to him. Tensions rise and the film climaxes with a terrific sequence that starts as a massive shoot-out in a general store and finishes up with Chisum personally leading a stampede of cattle down the main street and engaging in a knock-down fist fight to the death with Murphy.
"Chisum" is intelligently scripted and represents one of the finest accomplishments of both Wayne and Andrew V. McLaglen. Shot in Mexico, it also features superb cinematography by the legendary William Clothier, who bookends the film with dramatic images of Chisum sitting astride his horse, enjoying a size-appropriate cigar while proudly overlooking his massive spread of land from atop a hill. Wayne is outstandingly good in one of his finest screen performances but the supporting cast is also excellent with nary a weak note. There are so many interesting characters and historical facts involved in the story that you wish there was another half hour of running time to do justice to the events depicted. Among the film’s fans was President Richard Nixon who said that, while he didn’t see many movies, he very much enjoyed “Chisum” very much and thought that Wayne was a “fine actor”. He went on to give an extended "review" of the film and said that it represented how law and order is the backbone of American democracy and nowhere is that depicted better than in the Western film. The movie enjoyed strong reviews and was a major hit for Warner Brothers.
Warner Home Entertainment has released a special edition of "Chisum" on Blu-ray and the transfer is gorgeous. The extra bonus features from the DVD edition have been ported over including a commentary track from director McLaglen who provides fascinating first-hand accounts about the making of the movie (though he does erroneously state this was his third collaboration with Wayne. In fact it was his fourth following "McLintock!", "Hellfighters" and "The Undefeated".) The Blu-ray also features an excellent vintage "making of" documentary that puts the film into historical perspective. There is also an original trailer. In all, an impressive Blu-ray release of one of the best Westerns of its era.
American ex-Presidents occupy a unique place in society. They represent the smallest, most elite club on earth. Each of the living ex-Presidents has known the bizarre ritual that results from transforming from the most powerful person on earth to someone with absolutely no legal powers in the amount of time it takes the new President to swear to the oath of allegiance. An incumbent President in a deeply divided nation can consider themselves to be successful if poll numbers show they left office with an approval rate of the mid-40s or higher. However, the best way a President can make poll ratings soar is to simply leave office. Traditionally the American people, and the world at large, views ex-Presidents from a saner, more nuanced viewpoint and inevitably their reputations improve with time, largely because they are mostly seen doing good deeds and raising money for charities. The ex-Presidents club has also seen some unexpected friendships develop due to the fact that only someone who has served in the pressure cooker atmosphere of the Oval Office can possibly relate to what his peers have gone through. Thus we saw President George H.W. Bush form a close bond with President Bill Clinton despite the fact that it was Clinton who deprived Bush of a second term. Word has it that the two men have almost a father/son relationship. Consequently, Clinton and President George W. Bush are said to enjoy a very cordial relationship. When Clinton was in office he served as the unlikely vessel that afforded President Richard M. Nixon a degree of public redemption by calling upon him for advice relating to foreign policy. President Gerald Ford also formed a very close friendship with the man who defeated him, President Jimmy Carter. The two traveled the lecture circuit in a quixotic attempt to convince Americans not to demonize people simply because they disagreed with their political beliefs. Yes, we tend to love our Presidents- as long as there is an "Ex" prefix before that designation. However, it's doubtful many would love ex-Presidents Russell P. Kramer and Matt Douglas, the protagonists of the 1996 political comedy "My Fellow Americans". Directed and co-written by Peter Segal, the film takes a promising premise that ends up being more fun in theory than it is in execution.
The film opens with Kramer (Jack Lemmon) and his successor-in-office Douglas (James Garner) being summoned to the White House to participate in an event to be presided over by incumbent President Haney (Dan Aykroyd). Neither man wants to be there, as they both detest Haney (who was Kramer's Vice-President)- but not more than they detest each other. En route to the conference, they insult each other constantly using language that would embarrass a Marine drill instructor. Both of the men have their annoying eccentricities. Douglas is a skirt-chasing womanizer (remember Bill Clinton was in office when the film was released) and Kramer is a penny-pinching tightwad who tarnishes his reputation by whoring himself for big bucks by making a speech a in front of Japanese executives (President Ronald Reagan had been lambasted for doing the same thing when he left the White House.) When they arrive at their destination, the real plot device kicks in. Turns out Haney is corrupt and details of a kickback scheme with a defense contractor are about to be unraveled by a snooping reporter. Haney and his equally corrupt staff get to work to concoct a scheme whereby Kramer will be framed as the real culprit and Douglas will be the top suspect in the murder of the defense contractor. Things go awry, however, when Kramer and Douglas manage to escape and go on the lam. They nearly die in a helicopter crash before being stranded in rural America with sinister "Men in Black" types hunting them down. Almost penniless and virtually helpless without their servants and security force, the two men become like a pensioner political version of Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier in "The Defiant Ones". They need each other to survive but can barely tolerate the other man's presence. The scenario is wide open for some great possibilities but director and co-writer Segal can't quite capitalize on the opportunities. Given the fact that the entire story premise is absurd, Segal manages to ratchet up even more absurdities until the film feels enough like a comic book that I expected the Marvel name to appear in the credits. By foot and car, the Presidents wander through the American heartland like modern Woody Guthries. Along the way they encounter an Elvis Presley impersonator, a former sexual conquest of Douglas (who doesn't believe it's really him), endless chases by Haney's Gestapo-like assassins and high speed car chases. They predictably learn a life lesson about the nobility of everyday Americans and the struggles they endure. The whole improbable mess comes to a climax back at the White House where, for reasons far too laborious to relate here, the ex-Presidents end up being chased on horseback in an attempt to reveal the truth about Haney, who is in the process of honoring members of the Dutch Resistance (!)
"My Fellow Americans" does have some pleasurable aspects and moments. Lemmon excels in playing "Odd Couple"- like scenarios largely because he starred in the film version of "The Odd Couple". The film would have been more enjoyable if he had his usual co-star Walter Matthau with him but it is fun to see Lemmon and Garner square off against each other. There are also a few funny one-liners and modestly amusing scenarios including a surprising revelation at the end but Peter Segal's leaden direction ensures that no scene lives up to its potential. There are a number of good character actors in supporting roles ranging from Lauren Bacall (largely wasted), Wilford Brimley and, most amusingly, John Heard as Haney's handsome but dumb-as-an-ox VP (a not-so-subtle jibe at the legacy of Dan Quayle in the days before Sarah Palin would emerge to take the mantle.) One of the problems with the script is that it is so intent on not offending anyone's political sensibilities that the obsession with being "middle of the road" becomes annoying and pretentious. Thus, there is no bite to the jokes. For every knock against the GOP there is an equivalent knock against the Democrats. For example, in one scene the hitch-hiking ex Presidents are picked up by a destitute family who live in their car. We make sure we learn how both parties adversely affected their lives. The point of the scene is to show the Presidents humbled by these simple but honest people, but the film presents these noble characters as kind hearted idiots who believe Mount Rushmore is a natural rock formation. As I've written before, Hollywood screenwriters always believe that if they want to show an honest patriot, it has to be in the guise of a Gomer Pyle-type, unsophisticated idiot from rural America. It's the ultimate back-handed compliment. The other cliche readily apparent in the script is that all the dapper, educated and sophisticated characters tend to be crooks, schemers and murderers. Isn't just possible that a "real American" can also be sophisticated, patriotic and educated? Such are the predictable aspects of this lumbering comedy. I will say that the film is quite interesting in an unintentional way. Although released only twenty years ago, it's shocking to see how primitive technology was. No one seems to have a personal computer and there isn't a single cell phone seen anywhere, illustrating just how rapidly these devices came about and changed people's lives.
"My Fellow Americans" isn't some disaster and one hates to be a Grumpy Old Man about any film featuring Jack Lemmon and James Garner (who gets to replicate his jump from a speeding train from "The Great Escape" in this film). It certainly has some moments that afford minor laughs but the movie would have been better off delving completely into the Theatre of the Absurd in the manner of the "Naked Gun" and "Airplane" movies.
The Warner Archive has released the film in widescreen format for the first time. Previously, it was only available in pan-and-scan. Extras include the original trailer and a mildly amusing selection of bloopers that mostly focus on Lemmon cracking up on the set.
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Some actresses' performances can be much admired while others you virtually devour. I devour any performance by Bette Davis, who often elevated even middling films to something akin to high art. Such a case is evident in her cult classic Dead Ringer, a 1964 thriller that allowed Davis to give a tour de force performance in a dual role. The film itself has a hokey concept, that of two estranged identical twin sisters who are reunited with deadly consequences. Yet, Davis' former leading man and Now, Voyager co-star Paul Henreid directs this otherwise minor screen effort with great style, affording Davis one of her best late career performances. As Edith, Davis is seen as a down-and-out owner of a skid row bar who is facing financial ruin. She is reunited with her rich sister Margaret at the funeral of Margaret's husband. The two have not been on speaking terms ever since the self-absorbed Margaret stole Edith's rich lover and seduced him into marrying her. Invited to Margaret's mansion, the sister's bitter rivalry gains new momentum. Edith ultimately concocts an audacious scheme whereby she will murder Margaret and then switch identities with her, in the process masking the slaying as a suicide. As absurd as the premise may sound, director Henreid and Davis bring enough gravitas and tension to these scenes that the plot plays out quite credibly. Predictably, Edith - now posing as Margaret- encounters a minefield of challenging situations. Although she looks and sounds exactly like her deceased sister, the two women had vastly different personalities and habits. Part of the fun is watching Edith having to constantly improvise to escape exposure by suspicious housekeepers, servants and old friends of Margaret. The boiling point comes when she is "reunited" with Tony (Peter Lawford), an ambitious social climber who had been Margaret's lover and boy toy. Tony is anxious to resume their love affair. Edith/Margaret is clearly delighted to inherit her sister's handsome lover, but soon realizes that she can only bluff so far before being found out. Adding to her woes is the investigation led by her own former boyfriend, a police detective (Karl Malden) who is the antithesis of Tony: he sincerely loved Edith and wanted to marry her. The irony, of course, is that his investigation of the suicide has him in constant contact with Edith, though he believes he is dealing with Margaret.
Dead Ringer is consistently entertaining throughout and the glorious black and white cinematography and Andre Previn's Bernard Herrmann-like score only add to the pleasure of watching this quaint thriller unfold. The performances are all excellent but no one can hope to match the site of Bette Davis slapping around Bette Davis. The Warner Home Video Blu-ray release of the film features a new featurette about the making of the movie and interview with film historian Boz Hadleigh, who also provides a commentary track along with Charles Busch. Hadleigh provides some great anecdotes about the film and gives the movie and its participants the respect they deserve. There is also a vintage production short about the mansion house where much of the movie was shot. It's quite interesting to see rare behind the scenes footage of Henreid at work with cast and crew.
The movie is a grand showcase for one of Hollywood's most legendary actresses- and the Blu-ray presents Ms. Davis at her very best.
MGM has released the 1969 film The File of the Golden Goose on DVD. Yul Brynner top-lines the crime thriller that plays more like an espionage movie. Brynner portrays American Treasury agent Peter Novak, who is sent to London to infiltrate and bust a major ring that specializes in spreading counterfeit U.S. currency. Novak is assigned a young Scotland Yard detective, Arthur Thompson (a very effective Edward Woodward) and the two men enact a scenario where they are ultimately taken in as part of the gang by mobster front man George Leeds (always-reliable character actor Walter Gotell). The film is unremarkable on most levels, but the script is intelligently written and there is some genuine suspense when Novak begins to suspect that Thompson is adapting to the mobster lifestyle for real. Brynner makes for one of the most inimitable leading men of his era, constantly bringing a sense of dignity and gravitas to what otherwise might be considered to be a B movie. There is also a very wry performance by Charles Gray, playing an out-of-the-closet queen who dabbles in counterfeit bills in between hosting orgies. The film was helmed by actor/director Sam Wanamaker, who makes the most of the extensive London locations. However, the movie's climactic shootout sequence involving a helicopter is a bit of a dud and suffers from poor editing. Nevertheless, any Brynner film deserves attention and The File of the Golden Goose is a more than satisfying thriller.
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Warner Brothers dug deep into their vaults to compile
this nostalgic and electrifying collection of vintage musical shorts featuring
some of the greatest names in entertainment history. The short films in this
six-disc set feature performances and appearances by Eddy Duchin, Harry Reser
and His Eskimos, Jimmy Dorsey, Ozzie Nelson, Artie Shaw, Woody Herman, and
others, plus "Ramblin' Round Radio Row" films from 1932-35, and much
more. 11 hrs. total. Standard; Soundtrack: English.
(This is a region-free DVD release)
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Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — Aug. 1, 2016 — For
Immediate Release — The Golden Age of Musicals features 17
fabulous, classic films from the genre’s peak era, spanning two
decades from 1937 to 1957, in a five-disc DVD collector’s set, available
Aug. 9 from Film Chest Media Group.
The emergence of sound technology sparked a natural expansion,
taking the musical genre from the stage to the big screen. Multiple camera
angles, the ability to shoot at various locations and the use of lavish
background scenery that would be impractical in a theater allowed filmed
productions to outshine live performances.
Interest in musicals increased dramatically in the
mid-1930s when director Busby Berkeley (Take Me Out to the Ball
Game, The Gang’s All Here, For Me and My Gal) began to enhance
traditional dance routines with his unique style. His creative numbers
would typically begin on stage, then gradually transcend
the limitations of theatrical space by filming from above, capturing
dancers forming kaleidoscope-esque patterns.
As the motion picture industry grew with the development
of special effects, increased quality of film technology and the introduction
of color, the musical genre experienced sustained popularity for decades.
The Golden Age of Musicals boasts more than 25
hours of song, dance and comedy that will dazzle and entertain, from slapstick
to romance to over-the-top opulence. Featuring the best films and biggest stars
of the era, including Fred Astaire in Second Chorus, Danny
Kaye in The Inspector General, Bing Crosby and Bob
Hope in Road to Bali, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis in At
War With the Army, Judy Garland in Till the Clouds Roll By and many more, The
Golden Age of Musicals is a must-have collector’s set for fans
new and old!
The Golden Age of Musicals is presented in full screen with
an aspect ratio of 4 x 3 and original sound.
In his review of "Jack of Diamonds", New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther dismissed it as "strictly low-grade "Topkapi". He only missed the mark in one respect: I would argue that it is more low-grade "To Catch a Thief". The 1967 crime caper stars George Hamilton as handsome and inanimate as a mannequin found in the window of a posh 5th Avenue department store. At least no one can ever accuse him of putting the "ham" in "Hamilton". Hamilton plays Jeff Hill, the world's most notorious cat burglar. When we first see him, he's using a rope and pulley to enter the penthouse apartment of Zsa Zsa Gabor (!), who plays herself. While old Zsa is sleeping, Hill manages to abscond with her valuable jewels- but, ever the gentleman, he leaves her a message telling her how much he enjoys her films (which means Hill has immaculate taste in jewels but not-so-great taste when it comes to the cinema.) Ms. Gabor is one of several real-life celebs who play themselves in the film. The others are Carroll Baker and Lili Palmer, each of who are victimized by the elegant, gentlemanly thief. The cameos are a pretty transparent gimmick to add a little more glamour to the production, which was produced by a West German film company and released theatrically in the USA by MGM.
Hill lives a Hefner-like lifestyle in a lavish mansion replete with all the trappings including a gymnasium complete with a trapeze which he uses to stay in shape so he can utilize his signature style of entering high buildings using the tactics of a human fly. We soon learn he has a mentor who goes by the name of "Ace" (Joseph Cotten), as he was once the world's greatest jewel thief and was known as "The Ace of Diamonds". He still acts as a wise sage for Hill, advising him on the dos and don'ts of certain potential capers. Hill soon finds that he has a competitor for some of the same jewels. Turns out it is a female cat burglar, Olga (Marie Laforet), who has her own mentor, Nicolai (Maurice Evans), a dapper dandy who also was once a famed jewel thief. Nicolai has concocted a plan for the ultimate theft and wants Olga and Hill to join forces to carry it out with he and Ace acting as advisers. This gives Hill plenty of time to make time with his new sexy partner but there is virtually no chemistry between Hamilton and Laforet, partly because her character is largely window dressing and is not fleshed out in the slightest in terms of being given a background. Nicolai's plan requires stealing some famed jewels from a seemingly impenetrable museum but just to learn their precise location it will require the cat burglars to break into a safe located in the headquarters of the Paris police. Achieving this daring goal, the foursome then turn to the main event: the robbery of the jewels. They are racing against time against an international police organization (presumably based on INTERPOL) that is doggedly trying to track them down and stop future robberies. The organization's point man is Von Schenk (Wolfgang Preiss), a charismatic German who pursues them with the zeal of Inspector Javert.
"Jack of Diamonds" is yet another film from the Sixties that looked anemic in its day but probably plays better now. The film tries to present some glamorous European locales but much of it is achieved through the over-used stock footage that MGM had in its vaults at the time. (A scene supposedly shot atop the Pan Am building in New York features what may be the worst rear screen projection effect I've ever seen.) Still, the offbeat feel of the film is somewhat enjoyable and the script allows a Bondian air in which the pursuer and the pursued match wits while enjoying each other's company and sharing fine cigars. George Hamilton makes for a strikingly handsome leading man even if he's a bit short in the charisma department. The real fun is watching old pros Cotten, Evans and Preiss trade barbs and witticisms. It's the kind of dialogue that is rare in contemporary thrillers. The caper aspects of the production are carried out adequately by director (and former actor) Don Taylor and if the entire enterprise stacks up as "Hitchcock Lite", it's an enjoyable romp throughout with nary a dull moment and a bizarre but infectious score by Bob Harris and Peter Thomas (bizarre because it is the only time you will ever seen a filmed ski chase that combines jazz music and yodeling.)
The Warner Archive has released the film as a region-free DVD title. There are some inconsistencies with the color quality but overall it's an acceptable print, though I suspect it may not be presented in its original aspect ratio. This version seems to be matted but I could be wrong. The DVD contains the original theatrical trailer.
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In the estimation of many film scholars the 1970s was the most adventurous and liberating period in the history of the medium. The new freedoms in regard to sex, violence and adult themes that had exploded in the mid-1960s became even more pronounced in the '70s. Among the most daring studios to take advantage of this trend was United Artists. The studio had been conceived by iconic actors in the silent era with the intent of affording artists as much creative control over their productions as possible. UA had continued to fulfill that promise, producing a jaw-dropping number of box-office hits and successful film franchises. The studio also disdained censorship and pushed the envelope with high profile movie productions. The daring decision to fund the X-rated "Midnight Cowboy" paid off handsomely. The 1969 production had not only been a commercial success but also won the Best Picture Oscar. A few years later UA went even further out on a limb by distributing "Last Tango in Paris". The studio fully capitalized on the worldwide sensation the movie had made and the many attempts to restrict it from being shown at all in certain areas of the globe. Like "Midnight Cowboy", "Tango" was an important film by an important director that used graphic images of sexual activity for dramatic intensity. Unfortunately, not every filmmaker who was inspired by these new freedoms succeeded in the attempt to mainstream X-rated fare during those years that the rating wasn't only synonymous with low-budget porno productions. Case in point: screenwriter John Byrum, who made his directorial debut with "Inserts", a bizarre film that UA released in 1975 that became a legendary bomb. The movie has been released on Blu-ray by Twilight Time as a limited edition (3,000 units).
The claustrophobic tale resembles a filmed stage production. It is set primarily in one large living room in a decaying Hollywood mansion. The time period is the 1930s, shortly after the introduction of sound to the movie industry resulted in the collapse of silent pictures (Charlie Chaplin being the notable exception.) The central character, played by Richard Dreyfuss, is not named but is referred to as "The Boy Wonder". From our first glimpse of him we know we are seeing a man in trouble. He is unkempt, dressed in a bathrobe and swizzling booze directly from the bottle. We will soon learn that he was once a respected mainstream director of major studio films and was revered by Hollywood royalty. Now he is a has-been who has resorted to making porn movies in 16mm in his own home. (Yes, Virginia, people liked to watch dirty movies even way back then.) He is entertaining a visitor, Harlene (Veronica Cartwright), a perpetually cheery, bubble-headed young woman who was once a respected actress but who, like Boy Wonder, has fallen on hard times. She is now a heroin addict who earns a living by "starring" in Boy Wonder's porn productions. They make small talk and some names from the current movie business are bandied about. Harlene tells Boy Wonder that a rising star named Clark Gable is said to be an admirer of his and wants to meet him. Instead of responding favorably to this news, Boy Wonder seems unnerved by it. The implication is that he is locked in a self-imposed downward spiral and lacks the self-confidence to attempt a real comeback. Harlene also needles him about his sexual prowess. It turns out that the king of porn films has long been impotent for reasons never explained. As they prepare to film some scenes Harlene's male "co-star" (Stephen Davies) arrives. He is nicknamed Rex, The Wonder Dog, which seems to bother him especially when the Wonder Boy uses it to intentionally disparage him. Like Harlene, Rex is short on brains but is physically attractive. Boy Wonder seems to have a real resentment towards him, perhaps because Rex is a powerhouse in bed while he can't get anything going despite directing naked people in sex scenes. It becomes clear that if Boy Wonder and Rex don't like each other. Boy Wonder ridicules Rex for performing sex acts on male studio executives who he naively believes will help him become a star. However, their relationship looks downright friendly compared to the interaction between Harlene and Rex. When Rex is a little slow in becoming physically aroused, Harlene mocks him mercilessly. This results in him essentially subjecting her to a violent rape which thrills Boy Wonder, who captures it all on film. Harlene doesn't appear to be any worse for the wear, however, and blithely says she's going off to a bedroom to rest.
The household is next visited by mobster Big Mac (Bob Hoskins), the man who finances Boy Wonder's film productions. He is accompanied by his financee Cathy Cake (Jessica Harper), a pretty young woman who seems to have a particular interest in the forbidden world of pornography. Big Mac and Boy Wonder also hate each other. Big Mac berates Boy Wonder for making his porn flicks too esoteric and artistic for their intended audiences who just want a cheap thrill. However, for Boy Wonder the porn films represent the last opportunity he has to demonstrate the cinematic style and camera angles that once impressed critics and the public. In the midst of their arguing, it is discovered that a tragedy has occurred: Harlene has died from a heroin overdose. Everyone seems nonplussed by the news and Big Mac's only concern is to ditch the body somewhere quickly. Turns out Rex has a part time job in a funeral parlor and can arrange for a gruesome plan in which they dump her body inside a grave that is being prepared for another person's funeral the next day. The plan is to dig a bit deeper, bury Harlene, then place a layer of dirt over her and have the "new" body placed on top of hers. As Big Mac and Rex leave to "undertake" this sordid task, Boy Wonder finds himself alone with Cathy Cake. She wants to use the time to have Boy Wonder film her in her own personal porn movie since Big Mac would never let his "fiancee" do so with his knowledge. She finds the idea of sex on film to be a stimulant but Boy Wonder won't have any of it. He knows that Big Mac's volatile temper and ever present bodyguard could result in him being the next corpse in the house. Cathy Cake tries another tactic and feigns interest in Boy Wonder. He lets his guard down and gradually is seduced by her. She even manages to cure his impotence but the tryst turns ugly when she learns he has not filmed it. Boy Wonder soon discovers that his renewed pride and self-respect is to be short-lived when it becomes clear that Cathy Cake actually loathes him and was only using him in order to fulfill her porn movie fantasy. The ploy works to a degree- her attention to Boy Wonder reawakens his sexual prowess but when she learns the camera wasn't rolling, she cruelly tells him that she only used him for selfish purposes. With this, Big Mac and Rex return from their horrendous errand and catch Boy Wonder in bed with Cathy Cake. The situation becomes dangerous with Big Mac threatening to kill Boy Wonder and things only deteriorate from there.
According to the informative liner notes by Julie Kirgo that accompany the Blu-ray, Richard Dreyfuss seemed to have a personal obsession with this film. He was very involved in all aspects of its production and remained defensive about the movie after its harsh reception from critics. The movie's complete rejection by reviewers and the public might have hurt his career but Dreyfuss already had "American Graffiti" and "Jaws" under his belt. Soon he would also star in another blockbuster, "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" followed by his Oscar-winning performance in "The Goodbye Girl". The fact that so few people ever saw "Interiors" actually worked to his advantage. However, whatever motivated him to become involved in this bizarre project remains a mystery. It's an ugly tale about ugly people doing ugly things to each other. If there is a message here, I didn't receive it. There isn't a single character you can identify with or sympathize with. They are all self-obsessed cynics with no redeeming traits. That leaves us with whatever values the performances afford us and it's a mixed bag. Dreyfuss is miscast. He was twenty nine years-old when he made the film and, despite his sordid appearance which ages him considerably, he is still far too young to portray a once-great movie director who has fallen on hard times. John Byrum's direction of Dreyfuss is unsteady. At times he encourages him to underplay scenes while at other times he has Dreyfuss chew the scenery mercilessly. Similarly, Stephen Davies plays the brain-dead hunk Rex with flamboyantly gay characteristics one minute then suddenly transforms into a heterosexual stud the next. Bob Hoskins in what would become his trademark tough-guy gangster mode but gives a solid performance. The best acting comes from the two female leads with Veronica Cartwright especially good as the ill-fated Harlene. Jessica Harper also does well in her thankless role. Both women seem at ease in doffing their clothes and playing much of their scenes in a provocative state. Cartwright even goes full frontal for the violent sex scene with Rex while Harper spends almost the entire last act of the film being photographed topless. Curiously, the willingness to appear nude onscreen was considered the epitome of female emancipation in films during the 1970s but the practice has largely become frowned upon in more recent years. In fact the days are long gone when virtually every major actress had to appear naked on screen. Today, female emancipation is the ability to play erotic scenes on screen without having to be completely compromised.
A while back I caught a film I vaguely remember having come and gone upon its initial release in 1974, a crime thriller titled The Destructors (aka The Marseilles Contract). The film flopped when it opened but I felt it had to have some value given the leading roles were played by Michael Caine, Anthony Quinn and James Mason. I was pleasantly surprised to find this to be a first-class action movie. The plot finds Quinn as the head of the American Drug Enforcement Agency in Paris. He's obsessed with bringing crime lord James Mason to justice but is hampered by red tape. When Quinn narrowly escapes an assassination attempt by Mason's thugs (in a very exciting and creatively staged sequence set in a Paris railroad station), he decides to take matters into his own hands. Quinn hires old friend Michael Caine, of late a charming hit man, to "off" Mason before another attempt can be made on his own life. Caine uses his charm to seduce Mason's sexpot, jet-setting daughter (Alexandra Stewart) in order to win the confidence of her father. Before long, Caine is an indispensable employee of Mason's and willingly peforms "hits" for him in order to boost his credibility. The plot takes plenty of twists and turns with unexpected developments and double crosses occurring on a regular basis as the three principals play cat-and-mouse games with each other. Director Robert Parrish keeps the action flowing and stages some exciting chase sequences. One, arranged by the famed Remy Julien, was obviously the direct influence for the opening car chase in the James Bond movie GoldenEye. In this film, Caine introduces himself to Stewart by challenging her to a high-risk car chase in the hills of the French countryside. The two cars become obvious phallic substitutes in a high speed mating dance. Sound familiar? In GoldenEye, the scene is repeated almost verbatim with Pierce Brosnan and Famke Janssen in the hills above Monte Carlo. (Not coincidentally, this scene was also staged by Julien, so he can't be accused of ripping off anyone's work but his own.) The film has some terrific locations, with primary action filmed in and around Paris and Marseille. In fact, even the interiors appear to shot in actual locations - there is nary a studio shot to be found.
The real joy of watching The Destructors (unfortunately, the title sounds like a Marvel comic), which ably directed by Robert Parrish, is the chemistry between Quinn and Caine, two old pros with different onscreen personas who play marvelously off each other. Add in the always-wonderful James Mason and a very winning performance by the sensual Alexandra Stewart, and the film emerges as one that should have certainly met with a better reception than it enjoyed at the time. There are some other aspects to recommend including the literate script by Judd Bernard and a good score by the reliable Roy Budd. Hell, there's even an impressive cameo by Pierre Salinger, President Kennedy's scriptwriter!
Reversible sleeve poster art.
Kino Lorber has released the film on Blu-ray and it looks terrific. Bonus features are the original trailer and a trailer for Michael Caine's third and final Harry Palmer spy thriller Billion Dollar Brain, also available from Kino. The latter trailer appears to be a work print that has been making the rounds for years, as it lacks any credits or even the film's title. A nice additional bonus is the inclusion of a great mini poster for The Destructors on the reverse side of the Blu-ray sleeve.
have to be honest and admit that my entry point for the Women In Prison film
genre was at the sleazy end of the spectrum. I caught the grubby little Linda
Blair movie Chained Heat (1983) on cable in my long ago youth and was suitably
appalled – appalled enough to watch it in stunned horror at least three more times.
So as I grew older and saw more of these types of movies my idea of what a WIP
film would or could be became solidified around the 1970s and 80s version of
the genre. I'm sure you'll forgive me if I thought that they were little more
than delivery mechanisms for visions of various forms of lesbian sexual
activity, shower room violence, petty torture acts and other harsh bits of
business. Yeah, yeah- the occasional film might make noises about reforming the
horrible conditions on display but mostly the filmmakers were just wallowing in
gratuitous exploitative excess in the name of making a buck. Not that there is
anything wrong with that, in my opinion. But imagine my surprise when I first
encountered older WIP moves that couldn't fall back on showing a shower roomful
of naked, large-breasted ladies. What would be the draw? Wouldn't the lack of
such graphic elements cripple the film? What the hell is this? A film about
women locked up in a prison that actually has a good script? How did this
(1950) tells the sad story of 19 year old Marie Allen (Eleanor Parker). She has
been sentenced to a stretch in prison because of a bungled armed robbery
committed by her husband who was killed during the act. She insists that she
had nothing to do with crime but she was convicted as an accessory
nevertheless. To make matters for her worse, her prison entrance physical
determines that she is two months pregnant meaning she will give birth while
incarcerated. Marie has trouble adjusting to the harsh world of the women's
prison and struggles to find people she can trust. She meets professional
shoplifter Kitty Stark (Betty Garde) who says once Marie gets out, Kitty will
get her a job in her line of work. Kitty recruits for organized crime on the
outside and promises the young girl an easy life if she learns this criminal
trade. Marie does not want to get involved in crime, but Kitty explains the
realities of prison life clearly and events prove the 'booster' right. It is
explained to her that she can be paroled after nine months, but over time Marie
sees prisoner after prisoner being granted parole but then not released from
jail because no job has been arranged by their parole officers. After one such
prisoner kills herself the reality of her situation begins to become
apparent. Adding to her despair is the sadistic matron Evelyn Harper (Hope
Emerson) who decides to single Marie out for attention when she refuses to play
along with her money making schemes. By the time Marie gives birth to a healthy
baby and is forced by the state to grant full custody to her mother she has a
small bit of hope that she will be granted a parole to be with her child. But
when her mother gives the baby up for adoption against Marie's will she snaps
and makes a feeble try at escape.
many films of the genre, the prison in Caged has an authority figure that is
actually sympathetic to the plight of the ladies under her care. The great
Agnes Moorhead plays Ruth Benton, the reformist prison superintendent trying to
get evidence against the cruel Harper while simultaneously attempting to help the prisoners find a pathway out of
their dead end lives. Benton is as lenient with Marie as she can be but soon
she has to punish her when her actions become less justifiable and more like
her more hardened cellmates. When the now toughened Marie emerges from a moth
in solitary she finally takes violent action against Harper and shows that she
has given up hope of following the straight a narrow path to parole. She's
going to get out of prison no matter what she has to do once she is on the outside.
I might have expected the reformist slant taken by this film, I wasn't
expecting a 1950 movie to be so daring in talking about the nastier aspects of
prison life. All the mean spirited subjects that I have come to expect from
later entries in the genre are here. Yes, they have to turn away from
gratuitously showing the lesbian relationships and vicious violent acts but
those events are in the story and not hidden behind the prudish restrictions I
expected. This is a classic social commentary film and it firmly places the
blame on the prison system for turning Marie into a career criminal but it
still manages to show that she chooses the easiest way out of her predicament. I
was surprised by the ending of this movie and pleased by its high quality
across the board. Caged is a very good film regardless of what you might think
of prison stories and this might be the film to introduce new viewers to Women
In Prison movies. It gives a sense of the unforgiving nature of the genre while
saving the harder stuff for later.
Caged! is a available through the Warner Archive. The DVD includes the original theatrical trailer.
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“Bad Man’s River” (1971) may be one of the most-unappreciated
spaghetti westerns that Lee Van Cleef ever made. This bizarre comedy-western
directed by Eugenio Martin (as Gene Martin) languished for a long time in the dollar
DVD bin at your local video store after having fallen into public domain. Most
reviews indicate that the DVD was a mess, and that the movie itself was one of
the worst films Martin, and Van Cleef ever had anything to do with. Well,
thankfully, Kino Lorber has rescued “Bad Man’s River” from the video trash heap
and released a good wide-screen transfer of the movie on Blu-ray. It may not be
among Van Cleef’s top ten all-time best movies, but it isn’t that bad either.
In fact, it’s pretty entertaining.
Martin, best known for the cult-horror classic, “Horror
Express” (1972), worked from a script by Hollywood veteran Philip Yordan.
Yordan previously had turned out some great screenplays for blockbusters like
“El Cid,” and “King of Kings”, cult favorites such as “Johnny Guitar,” film
noirs such as “The Big Combo” and “The Chase” (reviewed by Cinema Retro on May
13, 2016), and dozens of others. For “Bad Man’s River,” it appears that Yordan
decided to write a story that was basically a Looney Tunes send-up of the usual
spaghetti western plot. In essence, this comes down to: one character double
crosses another and they both get double crossed by somebody else, and on it
goes until the big gundown at the finale. In this case it’s a woman who does
all the double dealing, and what a woman she is—Gina Lollabrigida.
Van Cleef plays bank robber Roy King. He and the three
members of his gang (which includes Gianni Garko as Ed, Simon Andreu as Angel,
and Jess Hahn as Odie) rob a bank by digging underground up into the vault.
They make their getaway by train and split up, after which Roy runs into the
beautiful Alicia (Lollabrigida). She knows he’s got some loot, so she convinces
him to marry her on the train. (She conveniently happens to travel with a
preacher.) After the ceremony, she asks him if there was any insanity in his
family. Martin pulls the camera back from a tight close up of Roy and we see
he’s in a straight-jacket. Next thing he knows he’s in a mental institution. (See
what I mean by Looney Tunes?) But it’s no problem. He’s a dynamite expert and blasts
his way out of the funny farm and rejoins his former gang members to pull
another job. Turns out the woman behind a plan to blow up the Mexican
government’s stash of munition’s hidden in an old mission, is none other than Alicia.
She’s married to a Mexican politician now named Francisco Paco Montero (Daniel
Martin). When Roy first reunites with Alicia she says, “I’ve been expecting
you.” Roy says, “I had a hard day at the office.” She says “It’s big of you not
have hard feelings.” And he replies, as he’s taking off his clothes, “Your need
was greater” as he hops into the sack with her.
She introduces him to her new husband and they plan the
job, for which Roy and his gang will make ten grand. They blow up the mission
but guess what? There’s no ten grand. Alicia explains the real plan to Roy. Now that they’ve blown up the munitions, the
Mexican government will send $1 million to Montero ostensibly to buy more guns.
But of course, once they got the money they’ll all split it up. But there’s yet
another twist when Roy discovers the guy who was supposed to be Montero really
wasn’t. He was a double. The real Montero is James Mason, with one of the worst
Spanish accents ever preserved on film. He sounds like a Mexican by way of
So at this point we’re only two-thirds of the way through
the movie. The rest involves more double crosses, that include the leader of
the Mexican Revolutionaries, Col. Enrique Fierro (Sergio Fantoni), who falls
another victim of Alicia’s charms. It all sounds pretty tedious, but if you
roll with it, and take it for the satire that it at least tries to be, you can
get some laughs out of it.
Van Cleef does well with this rare stab at comedy, even sporting a
dorky hair piece and a derby. It seems like everyone had a pretty good time
making the movie. Lollabrigida was a bit past her prime, but still sexy and just
the right age for Van Cleef. She’s very convincing as a femme fatale of whom
one character says: “She isn’t afraid of anything, except poverty.”
Kino Lorber presents the film in a 2.45:1 widescreen
aspect ratio, which does justice to the 35mm print shot in Franscope. The audio
is an adequate 2.0 lossless mono soundtrack. The eccentric soundtrack by Waldo de los Rios,
which includes everything from rock music to abarbershop quartet, is
well-presented. A lot of people
criticized Rios’s music but I thought it fit the totally wacky premise of the
whole movie, which I suppose you could sum up as “Cherchez la femme”—spaghetti western-style.
You have to hand it to ol' Jack Warner- he knew a good thing when he saw it and he also had an uncanny ability to replicate success. Following the Oscar-winning triumph of Warner Brothers' "Casablanca" in 1942, Warner, as the main mogul of the studio that bore his family's name, managed to capture lightning in a bottle again. Warner recognized that the unique chemistry among key cast members resulted in the success of "Casablanca". Not only had Humphrey Bogart proven to be credible as a romantic leading man but he was surrounded by some remarkable supporting actors: Claude Rains, Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre among them. His first priority was to re-assemble much of the cast for another WWII-themed film project. Warner was a master at milking the same cow when it came to cinematic success stories. Following the success of "The Maltese Falcon", he quickly cobbled together "Across the Pacific" for "Falcon" stars Bogart, Mary Astor and Sydney Greenstreet. Now Warner had Bogart, Greenstreet, Rains and Lorre in mind for "Passage to Marseille", which would not-so-coincidentally be directed by Michael Curtiz, who had helmed "Casablanca". For good measure, Warner ensured the film would also benefit from a score by that film's esteemed composer, Max Steiner. For good measure, Warner cast actress Michele Morgan as the female lead. Morgan had originally been considered for the role of Bogart's lover in "Casablanca", but the part ultimately went to Ingrid Bergman. Topping things off, Warner peppered the new film with appearances by other reliable alumni from "Casablanca" in supporting roles- and even made sure he had a character in a Bogart-like hat and trenchcoat meeting up with Claude Rains on an airport runway! For all his enthusiasm about the project, "Passage" was a troubled production. It had been kicking around the studio for quite some time and had been in pre-production a full six months before filming began. Additionally, Humphrey Bogart was not enthused about the movie and argued with Warner that he would rather star in a film titled "Conflict". Warner had demanded that Bogart drop out of that production to star in "Passage" with the intention of replacing him with Jean Gabin. Ultimately a compromise was reached and Bogart would eventually star in "Conflict", but not until 1945.
The film is based upon a novel by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall, who were best known for writing "Mutiny on the Bounty". As with that film, this one deals with a troubled ocean voyage and a mutiny. The plot is very wide-ranging and employs the unusual device of relating events as flashbacks-within-flashbacks. Although director Curtiz does manage to keep things comprehensible, the bouncing back and forth between time periods does require the viewer to pay close attention. The film opens at a secret Free French air base located in rural England. A reporter, Manning (John Loder), is doing a story about the efforts of the Free French forces to help free their homeland of German occupation. He meets with the commander of the base, Captain Freycinet (Claude Rains), who briefs him about military operations and takes him to the runway area where pilots are readying for another bombing run over occupied France, the irony of which finds the pilots having to destroy parts of their own country in order to free it. A particular, somber pilot catches Manning's eye. Freycinet explains he is Jean Matrac (Humphrey Bogart) and he relates his remarkable tale to the reporter. Matrac was the publisher of a political gazette in France that was critical of what he felt was the government's appeasement policies towards Nazi Germany in the months before the war broke out. Ignoring warnings to tone down his criticisms, Matrac continues to criticize elected officials but he pays a steep price for his courage. Government-hired goons raid his offices and destroy the place, killing a man in the process. Matrac is then framed for the man's murder and he finds himself on the lam with his lover Paula (Michele Morgan). With the police closing in, the couple marries shortly before Matrac is finally arrested. He is sent to the French penal colony known as Devil's Island where he and his fellow inmates suffer inhumane abuses and backbreaking work in dangerous swamps. Matrac and four fellow convicts are approached by an elderly fellow French inmate, Granpere (Vladimir Sokoloff) who can arrange for them to make a daring escape by boat- on the proviso that they promise to fight to free France from German forces. The men agree and make their escape but become becalmed in the Caribbean. They are rescued by a steamer ship captained by Freycinet, who immediately suspects the men are actually escaped convicts and discounts their story about being fishermen who were trying to return to fight the Germans. Also suspicious is the obnoxious martinet, Major Duval (Sydney Greenstreet), who represents the French military presence on the vessel. Duval is a turncoat who is demanding that the ship keep on its original course and return to France, where he intends to collaborate with the German government. This doesn't sit well with Freycinet and the escaped convicts, who lead a mutiny that overcomes Duval and his men. The ship then sails to freedom in England where both Freycinet and Matrac join the Free French forces. However, Matrac is a haunted and despondent man because his beloved wife and their young son he has never seen continue to reside under German occupation. Every time he flies with his crew on a bombing mission over France he makes a detour on the way home so that he can fly over their farm and drop a personal message to them.
The wide-ranging scope of the story keeps things moving at a fast clip despite the convoluted plot and abundance of supporting characters. Bogart is grim and somber throughout, with none of his trademark quips or wiseguy cracks on display. The fact that he is playing a Frenchman is a major distraction because he keeps all the Bogart mannerisms in place. He gives a solid performance but isn't believable at all as a French nationalist. Fortunately, his co-stars such as Peter Lorre (as a fellow convict), Greenstreet and Rains are more convincing. There are engrossing scenes in the penal colony (actually California locations) and some very interesting characters that populate the goings-on. There is also an exciting action sequence that takes place when the convicts lead a mutiny but a technical flaw finds the steamer ship rock solid in the water, apparently oblivious to any movement the waves or rolling of the ocean might seem to cause. Rains is as solid and commanding as ever, Lorre and Greenstreet chew the scenery as only they can and Morgan makes for a perfectly suitable romantic interest for Bogart. "Passage to Marseilles" isn't a classic- and it's sentimental final sequence is telegraphed almost from frame one- but it is solid entertainment with a sterling cast.
The Warner Archive Blu-ray ports over all the intoxicating extras from the DVD special edition. They include:
Trailer for the Errol Flynn WWII thriller "Uncertain Glory"
A historical discussions with scholars about the role of the Free French in WWII
A compilation of gag reels and bloopers from vintage WB movies that is more interesting than amusing.
A Chuck Jones WWII-themed cartoon "The Weakly Reporter" that centers on wartime deprivations and rationing.
"Jammin' the Blues", a Oscar-nominated short that showcases African-American jazz greats in concert
"I Won't Play", a corny short film depicting American G.Is in the Pacific, one of whom alienates the men in his unit because of his constant bragging about his musical prowess and his friendship with a major female film star (who just happens to pop by in the jungle to entertain them!)
Various vintage newsreels including one cringe-inducing short that depicts attractive WACs being shown military training techniques in an era long before women would prove they could do these things as well as men. Here, the young ladies are treated like fish-out-of-water, afraid to break their heels while giggling at the obstacles the men have to overcome in training.
In all, an irresistible package for any retro movie lover.
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"Gun the Man Down" is yet another Poverty Row low-budget Western shot during an era in which seemingly every other feature film released was a horse opera. Supposedly shot in nine days, the film is primarily notable for being the big screen directing debut of Andrew V. McLaglen, who would go on to be a very respected director who specialized in Westerns and action films. The movie also marked the final feature film for James Arness before he took on the role of Marshall Matt Dillon in TV's long-running and iconic "Gunsmoke" series. After failing to achieve stardom on the big screen, Arness found fame and fortune in "Gunsmoke" when John Wayne recommended him for the part. Wayne had been championing Arness for years and provided him with roles in some of his films. Following "Gunsmoke"'s phenomenal run, Arness seemed content to stay with TV and had another successful series, "How the West Was Won". John Wayne was one of the first actors to successfully launch his own production company, Batjac, which produced this film and Wayne's influence is felt in the project. Andrew V. McLaglen was the son of Wayne's good friend and occasional co-star Victor McLaglen. The screenplay was written by Burt Kennedy, who Wayne would later hire to direct several of his own films. The movie provided young Angie Dickinson with her first role of substance and she would reunite with Wayne years later on Howard Hawks' "Rio Bravo". Speaking of which, another Wayne favorite, character actor Pedro Gonzalez Gonzalez appears in both films. Also in the cast is Harry Carey Jr. , son of Wayne's idol and and personal friend, Harry Carey. The cinematography is by William Clothier, who would lens many of Wayne's later movies and the film was produced by Duke's brother, Robert Morrison. "Gun the Man Down" is very much a Wayne family affair.
The film opens with three fleeing bank robbers: Rem Anderson (James Arness), Matt Rankin (Robert J. Wilke) and Ralph Farley (Don MeGowan), who arrive at their hide-a-way cabin with the law in hot pursuit. Rem has been seriously wounded and Rankin makes the decision to leave him behind. Rem's girl, Jan (Angie Dickinson), objects at first but Rankin convinces her to go with them in part because they have $40,000 in loot from the local bank. The law arrives at the cabin and arrests Rem. He is nursed back to health and is offered a deal for a light sentence if he helps track down his confederates. Rem refuses and does his time in prison. Upon release, he begins his mission vengeance and tracks Rankin, Ralph and Jan to a one-horse town where Rankin has used his ill-gotten gains to open a profitable saloon. Upon discovering Rem is in town, Rankin hires a notorious gunslinger, Billy Deal (Michael Emmet), to assassinate him. Jan has a tense reunion with Rem and seeks his forgiveness but her pleas fall on deaf ears. Rem emerges victorious over Billy Deal and Rankin, Ralph and Jan flee town with Rem in pursuit. Their final confrontation takes place in a remote canyon with tragic consequences.
Given the film's meager production budget, "Gun the Man Down" is a surprisingly mature and engrossing Western with intelligent dialogue and interesting characters. (In addition to those mentioned, there is a fine performance by Emile Meyer as the town sheriff). Arness projects the kind of macho star power that Wayne had and Dickinson acquits herself very well as the stereotypical saloon girl with a heart of gold. The film, ably directed by McLaglen, runs a scant 76 minutes and was obviously designed for a quick playoff and fast profit. It has largely been lost to time but the Olive Blu-ray release puts in squarely in the realm of hidden pleasures. Fans of traditional Westerns will find nothing very new or innovative here, but the film does hold up as solid entertainment. The Blu-ray includes the original trailer.
Drive-In was shot in Sydney, Australia in 1986 by English-born Brian
Trenchard-Smith. One of the most significant sparks in Ozploitation cinema
during the 70s and 80s, the director’s renown stems predominantly from his
knack for turning relatively scant budgets into expensive looking pictures with
sharp teeth and blistering attitude. Set in the (then) near future – which is now
some quarter of a century in the past – the film ushers its audience into the
midst of a society that's gone to hell in a handcart; the economy has collapsed,
food is in short supply, unemployment is rife...the latest movie blockbuster is
Sylvester Stallone's Rambo 8: Rambo Takes
Russia! Welcome to a garish neon-lit nightmare, awash with Day-Glo
graffiti, where looters and violent wastrels rule the night, cruising in
souped-up stock cars, exploiting the impotence of the authorities and leaving a
trail of mayhem and destruction in their wake.
One evening Jimmy 'Crabs’
Rossinni (Ned Manning) takes his girlfriend Carmen (Natalie McCurry) to a movie
at the local Star Drive-In theatre. Claiming to be unemployed at the gate in
order to score tickets on the cheap proves to be a big mistake. While Jimmy and
Carmen are making out on the back seat of the car, someone absconds with a
couple of their wheels and they find themselves stuck there for the night. With
the dawn comes the revelation of the establishment's true purpose and the awful
realisation of the gravity of their situation; they have been deliberately confined
in an electric-fence-ringed prison, a hovel where the Government incarcerates
the unemployed populace. Patrolled by police, it's practically a self-contained
township where the inmates are supplied with copious junk food, beer and music
and are thus more than content to stay put, captivity being a preferable
alternative to the starvation and certain death they’d face out on the streets.
Carmen, having fled her home and being something of a loner by nature,
immediately begins to fit in. But Jimmy is determined to escape, no matter the
Tautly directed by
Trenchard-Smith from a Peter Smalley script, fans of vehicular mayhem are
certainly well catered for with Dead-End
Drive-In, especially during an 11th hour chase around the Star’s parking
lot and a spectacular climactic stunt; one imagines that a fair old chunk of
the budget was expended on that alone. But although it all ends on a note of
hope and a truly grand amen, the movie as a whole makes for pretty bleak
viewing (which, to be fair, is a common denominator in most films that envisage
a dystopian future). With its cast of bizarre and feral characters and distinctive
lensed-in-the-80s vibe, Dead-End Drive-In
sits comfortably alongside the era’s top end Troma product (which, I hasten to
add, is intended as a compliment), and there's some amusement to be had in that
the films beaming out of the Star's projection bunker include a couple of
Trenchard-Smith's earlier Ozploitationers, 1982's Turkey Shoot and (this writer's pick from the director’s CV) the cracking
1975 actioner The Man from Hong Kong.
Ned Manning doesn't make for
the likeliest hero figure, yet although he’s scrawny to the point that even his
mother puts him down, he ably steps up to the plate when the moment comes. As
his girlfriend Carmen, Natalie McCurry is gorgeousness incarnate; crowned Miss
Australia in 1989, the actress tragically passed away in 2014 at the age of
just 48. The real scene stealer here, however, is smooth-talking Peter Whitford
as the Star's sly manager, Thompson, who befriends Jimmy but ultimately turns
out to be far from the amiable soul he first appears.
Light on narrative
development but heavy on sleazy atmosphere and flashy action, viewers who like
their post-apocalyptic movies rough around the edges and teeming with
quirkiness are sure to get a rapid-fire buzz from Dead End Drive-In.
The film arrives on Blu-ray
in the UK from Arrow and it’s a worthy upgrade of their DVD release, which appeared
three years ago. A brand new 2K restoration using the original film elements, the
transfer is very impressive indeed with only occasional traces of vertical
scratching in evidence. The deal sweeteners comprise a commentary from the
always interesting Trenchard-Smith, the director’s 1973 TV documentary “The Stuntmen”
(49m), his disturbing 1978 public information film about the dangers of hospital
patients sneaking an illicit cigarette – “Hospitals Don't Burn Down” (24m) –
plus an original release trailer and a short gallery of still images (intercut
with textual information) depicting graffiti art created for the film by
Time Life has released "Bob Hope: Entertaining the Troops", a priceless presentation of Hope's famous USO shows for American troops serving overseas. The two programs, presented uncut, are a wonderful time capsule of the era. At the time the Vietnam War was raging and the only glimpses concerned Americans got of the fighting men were grim images squeezed into the half-hour evening news during this pre-cable TV era. Thus, Hope's merry band of entertainers allowed some welcome views of the servicemen getting a rare and well-deserved laugh from the songs, skits and stand up presented by Hope and his troupe. Not surprisingly, the biggest reactions are afforded to the sex symbols who traveled with him. In this case, they include Connie Stevens, Lola Falana, Romy Schneider and Ursula Andress. Admittedly, the humor creaks with age but the spirit and good will is timeless. One of the shows is interesting from a historical perspective, as Hope and company kick off their tour at the White House in the presence of President Nixon, then still riding high from his first election and a couple of years away from the Watergate scandal that would bring down his entire administration. There are also some bonus extras, described in the press release below:
"The legendary Bob Hope, one of the greatest entertainers of
the 20th century, was best known for his Christmas specials.Traveling with special guests, he visited US
troops in dozens of locations around the world, performing on battleships and
battlefields -- and sometimes even accompanied by the sound of fighter jets
overhead.His missions were often
dangerous, his schedule brutal, yet for thousands of servicemen and women far
from home there was no one like Hope for the holidays.
On May 10, Time Life®, creator and direct marketer of unique
music and home entertainment products, will deliver BOB HOPE: ENTERTAINING THE
TROOPS, a single DVD featuring three TV Christmas Specials: a rare,
never-before-released 1951 special from The Korean War Era , along with shows
from 1970 and 1971 – two of the most-watched shows in TV history! Featuring Hope’s hilarious monologues and
guest stars aplenty, these shows prove that laughter is truly the best medicine, regardless of the time zone or
terrain. With this DVD release, Hope’s
fans will enjoy more than two and a half hours of Hope’s house calls across
three special troop shows:
The Bob Hope Christmas Special: Around the World with the
USO (Original Airdate: January 15, 1970) --
Hope and company embark on another Christmas tour to
entertain the troops, starting with a send-off from the White House. The 16-day tour then continues through
Germany, Italy, Turkey, Thailand, Vietnam, Taiwan, Guam, and on-board the USS
Ranger and the USS Sanctuary. Highlights
include Neil Armstrong, recently back from his historic moon walk, answering
questions from the service members, and Connie Stevens singing the “Wedding
Bell Blues” to four service members named Bill.
The Bob Hope Christmas Special: Around the Globe with the
USO (Original Airdate: January 14, 1971) --
Hope visits U.S. military bases to entertain the troops and
bring them Christmas cheer, starting with rehearsals at West Point and with
stops in England, Germany, Thailand, Vietnam, Korea, Alaska, and to the USS
John F. Kennedy in the Mediterranean, and the USS Sanctuary in the South China
Sea. Highlights include Hope and Lola Falana doing a song and dance, Hope trading
zingers with Cincinnati Reds catcher Johnny Bench, plus a routine with Ursula
Andress, Gloria Loring and Miss World Jennifer Hosten.
Chesterfield Sound Off Time (Airdate: December 23, 1951) – This
rare, never-before-released special was filmed during the Korean War aboard the
aircraft carrier the USS Boxer. Highlights include Hope and Connie Moore crooning
“I Wanna Go Home (With You)”, the Nicholas Brothers performing their acrobatic
style of tap dancing, and Hope, in an extended comedy sketch, taking command of
the ship and sailing it on a secret mission."
Liotta is a police forensics scientist in “Unforgettable” a 1996 crime thriller
available for the first time on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber. The movie co-stars
Linda Fiorentino as a university researcher who has developed a drug which
allows lab rats to relive the memories of other rats.
Krane (Liotta) has been trying to clear his name after being framed for the
murder of his wife during a drunken rage after he discovers she’s having an
affair. He’s found passed out on the lawn after his wife is found brutally
murdered. A high profile trial results in his release on a technicality. He
returns to work on the police force and moves on with his life, but there’re a
lot of doubts regarding his innocence by family, friends and colleagues. He lost
custody of his daughters who now live with his sister-in-law Kelly (Kim
Cattrall), but sees them on weekends.
attending a lecture by Martha Briggs (Fiorentino) on the topic of her memory
research, David introduces himself and sets up an appointment to learn more. The
drug works in combination with another rat’s DNA while the recipient rat
remains in the location of the DNA’s donor rat in order to experience that
donor rat’s memories. David receives a demonstration of the memory drug and
asks if it’s gone through human trials. It hasn’t and Martha explains the
dangerous side effects including heart attacks and death. Naturally, David
steals a vile of the drug and also takes DNA samples from the victims of a
multiple homicide in a grocery store where he finds a clue that may link those murders
to his wife’s murderer. Martha does some checking, discovers who David is and
realizes he wants to use the drug to find his wife’s killer.
discovery is too late as David has already tried the drug and is on the trail
of the killer after injecting himself with the victim’s DNA at the grocery
store. We see what he experiences in the first person through the victim’s eyes
in a sort of foggy dream-like state. He identifies the killer as Eddie Dutton
(Kim Coates) and starts tracking the man which leads to Eddie’s death in a
shootout at a church.
boss, Don Bresler (Peter Coyote), is relieved and supportive of David and believes
they got the man who murdered his wife. Fellow cop Stewart Gleick (Christopher
McDonald) has always believed David got away with murder and is not so easily
convinced. David injects himself with Eddie’s DNA along with the memory drug at
the scene of his wife’s murder when Martha arrives. She helps him do it again
using a mixture of his wife’s DNA. David and Martha realize there’s much more
to the murder than anyone realized as they unravel a conspiracy involving the
revelation of his wife’s secret life.
movie has elements of crime thriller, Hitchcockian suspense and science
fiction. The memory drug is a fascinating plot element, but the thing I don’t
get is how memories are transferred through blood samples when our memories are
contained in our brain. It really doesn’t matter because it all works to move
the plot as long as one suspends disbelief and accepts the science fiction
and Fiorentino are very good and have nice screen chemistry. McDonald is also good
as the tough cop who believes Liotta got away with murder. David Paymer appears
as Liotta’s frazzled forensics partner and Kim Cattrall is underutilized and
seen briefly in a couple of scenes. Kim Coates plays the low-life creep to
great effect and Peter Coyote is on hand giving his measured and usual fine
performance throughout the movie.
movie underperformed upon its US release in February 1996 and didn’t receive a
release in the UK until nearly a year and a half later in July 1997. Produced
by Dino & Martha De Laurentiis and directed by John Dahl, the movie
deserved to do better. Nat King Cole’s version of “Unforgettable” is heard on
the soundtrack of the trailer which is a nice touch. Use of the song would
appear to be an obvious marketing angle, but for some reason is not heard
during the movie.
Blu-ray looks and sounds very good indeed and the 117 minute thriller has aged
well. Extras on the Kino release include the trailer, a five minute making of
featurette, unedited B rolls consisting of set-up shots and outtakes, and seven
short sound bites by cast, director and producer. The extras are interesting
and worth a look.
You’re an escaped convict who’s just busted out of San
Quentin. You get picked up on the road by a stranger who asks too many
questions, and when he hears the guy on the radio say there’s been a bust out
at the prison he puts two and two together. You tell him to stop the car and
you slug him. You drag him into the bushes and another car comes along. It’s a
beautiful woman named Irene Jansen who looks like Lauren Bacall and knows who
you are and wants to help you. You go with her and hide out at her San
Francisco apartment. But you know you’ve got to run or the cops’ll nab you. Irene
buys you a fresh suit of clothes and gives you some dough, because for some
crazy reason, she believes you’re innocent. You don’t remember her, but she was
at your trial every day. After a few days you take off in the middle of the
night and get picked up by a cab driver who just happens to know a good plastic
surgeon and for a couple of hundred he fixes your face so nobody’ll know who
you are. You go back to Irene/Bacall’s apartment wrapped up in gauze like the
Mummy. After a week or two you take the bandages off and guess what? Now you
look like Humphrey Bogart!
Such is the improbable and gimmicky plotline for “Dark
Passage” (1947), the third feature film vehicle from Warner Bros. to star Betty
and Bogie. And if that were all there were to it, it wouldn’t be much of a
movie. But the flick is based on a novel by David Goodis, the poet laureate of Philadelphia
noir, and in typical Goodis fashion, after Vincent Parry becomes Bogie, his
troubles only multiply. He’s caught in a situation that seems to have no
resolution. He was sent to San Quentin for murdering his wife. Of course, he’s
innocent but the evidence was stacked against him. Now that he’s free, he wants
to find out who did kill her and clear his name. Easy? Not on your life.
The plot involves a shrill harpy played by Agnes
Moorehead, a friend of Irene who seems to get a kick of out of kicking people
when they’re down-- when she isn’t annoying them. There’s the guy who first
picked Parry up and got dumped in the bushes for his trouble. He shows up later
as a blackmailer, because he knows about the plastic surgery. There’s a nice
enough guy played by Bruce Bennet who was too nice to close the deal with
Betty, and knows he’s got no chance with her now that Bogie’s around. There’s a
tough cop at an all-night diner played by Douglas Kennedy who sizes Parry up as
a man on the run and wants to take him downtown. It all spins round and round
with Parry caught in a circumstantial whirlpool, dragging him down into
“Dark Passage” came out the same year as Robert
Montgomery’s “Lady in the Lake.” In that adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s
novel, Montgomery filmed the entire movie using the camera as Philip Marlowe’s
point of view. Everything is seen as though through Marlowe’s eyes. As if “Dark
Passage” doesn’t have a gimmicky enough plot, Daves decided to really gimmick
it up by following Montgomery’s example. He shot the entire first half of the
film using a hand-held camera, one of the first of its kind. All the action in
the first half of the film is from Parry’s eye-level view of things. Sid
Hickox’s cinematography provides some great imagery, especially at the
beginning, as Parry gets his first view of freedom from inside an empty oil
drum. The scenes where Parry is in the chair facing a really creepy plastic
surgeon (Housely Stevenson) and the subsequent nightmare he has about it later,
are classic examples of film noir cinematography.
of this summer, all of Amicus Production’s Edgar Rice Burroughs adaptations are
now on Blu-ray from Kino-Lorber: The Land
That Time Forgot (1974); At the
Earth’s Core (1976) and ThePeople That Time Forgot (1977). All
three have excellent transfers and each release features special features to
boot. Overall all three films’ Blu-ray releases are some of the more
extravagant ones from the company. The
Land That Time Forgot and At the
Earth’s Core even come with reversible covers with different poster art on
each side (though The People That Time
Forgot curiously does not).
disc for At the Earth’s Core features
an on camera interview with the director of all three films, Kevin Connor, who
discusses these films along with his other genre output. It also features a
great on camera interview with Caroline Munro, who played Dia in the film,
which even covers her role in The Spy Who
Loved Me (1977). The film’s vintage making-of feature, A Special Art: Monsters, is also included along with the original trailer
and an audio commentary by Connor. The
Land That Time Forgot has the vintage Master
of Adventure making-of featurette of the film, along with the release
trailer and another commentary by Connor, this time moderated by Brian
Trenchard-Smith, director of such films as Leprechaun
3 (1995). The People That Time Forgot
features the film’s trailer along with another Connor/Smith commentary. Naturally,
Connor can’t pack every minute of the commentaries with juicy behind-the-scenes
anecdotes as the movies were made forty years ago, but there are still
interesting nuggets of info to be found that make them worth listening to. One
of the more interesting bits of trivia that Connor drops is that the reason they
never made film adaptations of Out of
Time’s Abyss (the third book in Burroughs Land That Time Forgot trilogy), Pellucidar
(the sequel to At the Earth’s Core)
and the John Carter of Mars series was that the Burroughs Estate began upping
their licensing fees after The People
That Time Forgot. So instead the production team decided to concoct an
original adventure story for their next picture, the result being Warlords of Atlantis (1978). The most
informative pieces on People’s disc are
actually the interviews conducted with female stars Dana Gillespie and Sarah
Douglas. Among the interesting information related is the fact that Gillespie also
auditioned for the role of Ursa for Superman
II, the role her co-star Douglas got. Although relatively short (a little
less than 20 minutes each) they are nearly as informative as the commentary
track in some respects.
in summary, if you already own the films on DVD, the improved picture and
features make the Blu-rays worth the update. And, for more information on the
films’ histories, see Paul Thomson’s article Monsters, Inc. in Cinema Retro #27.
CLICK HERE TO ORDER "THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT" FROM AMAZON
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John LeMay is the author of The Big Book of Japanese Giant Monster Movies Vol. 1: 1954-1980. (Click here to order from Amazon)
No matter the
conveyor-belt of bubblegum product proliferating at 21st century multiplexes,
it will always be the classics that endure. Robert Louis Stevenson's celebrated
novel “Kidnapped” – initially serialised in magazine form before being
published as a single volume in 1886 – has been tailored for cinema and
television many times, notably (for the big screen) in 1948 starring Dan
O'Herlihy and Roddy McDowell and in 1959 featuring Peter Finch and James
McArthur. 1971’s Kidnapped from
director Delbert Mann doesn't seem to get as much love as some of its siblings,
but for this writer it’s one of the most enjoyable of the clan, specifically
due to the presence of Michael Caine atop the cast.
Following the terrible
slaughter at the battle of Culloden, during which the Jacobite forces are
overthrown by government troops, an orphaned lad, David Balfour (Lawrence
Douglas) arrives at the home of his Uncle Ebenezer (Donald Pleasence) to claim
his inheritance. However, intent on securing it for himself, the grasping old
man slyly arranges for his nephew to be shanghaied, whereupon David finds
himself prisoner at sea of Captain Hoseason (Jack Hawkins), destined for sale
into slavery. When they run across notorious Jacobite rebel Alan Breck (Michael
Caine), David seizes the opportunity to ally with Breck and escape. They make
it back to shore and seek refuge with Breck's relatives, his uncle, James
Stewart (Jack Watson), and cousin Catriona (Vivien Heilbron). But their
adventure is only just beginning.
Although, of all Robert
Louis Stevenson's stories, "Treasure Island" remains the premier
boys' own adventure, "Kidnapped" is a cracker of a good yarn. Jack
Pulman's screenplay for this 1971 adaptation draws not only on that story but
also a chunk of its 1893 sequel "Catriona". And regardless of the
fact it all ends rather sorrowfully, it's still a rousing piece of fiction, the
recounting of which is well worth journeying alongside.
Delbert Mann (Oscar winner
for romantic drama Marty and much
admired by this writer for early 60s Doris Day rom-coms That Touch of Mink and Lover
Come Back) treated movie-goers to a star-studded and colourful period
costume drama whose glue, as previously remarked upon, is indisputably Michael
Caine. Admittedly the actor's Scottish accent waivers dreadfully at times, but
otherwise he's on excellent form with his infinite charisma and inexhaustible
brio serving to paper over any perceivable cracks. He certainly outshines
co-star Lawrence Douglas, whose David is more than a touch insipid; Douglas
worked almost exclusively in minor TV roles, with Kidnapped representing his only silver screen appearance of note.
Flame-haired Vivien Heilbron fares a little better as the lovely Catriona and
there's strong support from dependables Jack Watson as her father, Trevor
Howard as the surly Lord Advocate, Gordon Jackson as lawyer Charles Stewart,
Freddie Jones as cardsharp Cluny, and Jack Hawkins as the odious Captain
Hoseason (discernibly dubbed by Charles Gray who, due to Hawkins suffering from
throat cancer, often re-voiced the actor during this period of his career).
Special word for Donald Pleasence (who’s delicious as the slimy and duplicitous
Uncle Ebenezer) and a young Geoffrey Whitehead, nicely reptilian as Loyalist
Thesps aside, the
undisputed star of the film is the beautiful location photography of Paul
Beeson (whose skills can also be admired in the likes of Mosquito Squadron, The Sound
of Music, Never Say Never Again
and the Indiana Jones trilogy); seldom have the Scottish Highlands looked so
stunningly beautiful. Arguably, Vladimir Cosma's music for a late 70s TV
adaptation will probably never be surpassed (so gorgeously honeyed that, if the
mood is right, it has the power to move this writer to tears). However, Roy
Budd's score for Mann's film – along with the closing romantic ballad performed
by Mary Hopkin – is memorably redolent and contributes immeasurably towards
making this more than respectable screen adaptation of its source story a very
worthy investment of one's time.
Network Distributing, who
originally released Kidnapped on DVD
in the UK in 2007, have reissued it in a nicely fulsome package as part of
their continuing 'The British Film' series. The feature itself is a clean
2.35:1 ratio presentation with only the most minimal traces of wear. Caine fans
will delight in the inclusion of no less than three lengthy archive interviews (with
a combined running time of over an hour), two of them hosted by Russell Harty
during the actor's promotional tours for Sleuth
and The Eagle Has Landed, one by
Gloria Hunniford focusing on Educating
Rita. Then there’s a short 1971 behind-the-scenes featurette hosted by
Lawrence Douglas, a gallery of poster art, FOH and lobby cards and an extensive
collection of production stills, plus an original trailer. For those hesitant
as to whether the film alone is sufficient inducement to warrant purchase, the
wealth of supplementary material served up on Network’s disc should definitely
clinch the deal.
Historians of Hollywood’s Golden Age will surely remember
the name of Louella Parsons. Using the long
reach of the Hearst Newspaper Corporation as her platform, Parsons was crowned
the “Queen of Hollywood.” She was one of the earliest and foremost conveyors of
tinsel-town gossip. A radio personality
as well as a syndicated columnist, Parsons’ star would only dim when a rival, the
notorious Hedda Hopper, arrived in town circa 1938.
Regardless of the competition, Parsons would soldier on
and enjoy a long career. In her column
of October 28, 1958 (“Shocker Due”), the magpie broke the news that Steve Broidy,
the president of Allied Artists, Inc. had “turned over” the studio’s newest
project “Confessions of an Opium Eater
to Producer-Director William Castle.” The forty-four year-old Castle, only then in the earliest stages of
elevating promotional ballyhoo to an
art form, had already been in the movie business for a decade and a half. Though
no one would confuse Castle as an auteur,
the producer-director-writer could reliably churn out marketable low-budget westerns,
adventure films and thrillers for such studios as Columbia, Monogram, and
In 1958, Castle would direct the moody and atmospheric
horror-mystery Macabre for Allied. Then, in September of that same year, the
filmmaker was busy wrapping up principal shooting on yet another low-budget
horror The House on Haunted Hill. Though The
House on Haunted Hill (with star Vincent Price) would not see release until
February 1959, studio bookkeepers immediately recognized the film’s box-office
potency. Allied moved quickly to sign
the work-for-hire Price to appear in what would turn out to be a more dissolute,
under-performing quickie titled The Bat
Parsons reportage was too early out of the gate. For starters, she was misinformed regarding William
Castle’s involvement in Confessions of an
Opium Eater. Not only had she reported
that the acknowledged “Poor Man’s Hitchcock” was to leave for Tokyo, Japan in
January 1959 for location scouting, Parsons also leaked several other bits of
erroneous information: that Japanese Miiko Taka (“Marlon Brando’s screen-love
in Sayonarra”) had signed on as lead
actress, that the film would be shot in color, and that the resulting
production would be one of the studio’s “high budget pictures for the year.” None of this, of course, would turn out to be
true. Following the success of House on Haunted Hill, both Castle and Price
were able to strike a better deal with Columbia. It was through that studio that the (mostly
monochrome) low-budget horror-flick The
Tingler would be released in late 1959.
It’s difficult to determine exactly why Allied would
choose to press on in their desire to bring Thomas De Quincey’s slim book Confessions of an English Opium Eater to
the big-screen. The fact that it was a
public domain work and therefore free to pillage as source material cannot be
discounted. Truth be told, it’s neither
a particularly engaging story nor a tale worthy of being committed to celluloid.
Originally published in 1821 as a
serial in London magazine, the tale recounts
- in a rather straightforward if vividly described manner - the author’s
addiction to opiates. As a harrowing
medical and psychological treatise, De Quincey’s work was invaluable but, not too
surprisingly, almost nothing other than the slightly amended and grim
exploitative title would be utilized in this subsequent 1962 screen version.
Though the studio was able to entice Vincent Price – if
only briefly - back into the fold, Confessions
of an Opium Eater was the last of four films the actor would appear in for Allied. (His penultimate film for the company was a walk-on
role in the prison drama Convicts 4). Though usually cast in elegant and villainous
roles, Price is – at long last - a hero in this one, though he’s positively
raffish as first person narrator De Quincey. This is odd as the actual Thomas De Quincey was born into a British
mercantile family of means and prestige. Though a wild youth, he attended college, maintained
friendships with such colleagues as Wordsworth and Coleridge, and reportedly never
left the British Isles in the course of his lifetime. In the film however, this educated man of
letters is more provocatively cast as a tough gun-runner who developed a taste
for opium while working the tough streets of China’s mainland. Upon his 1902 return from the exotic east to
the gritty brick and clapboard streets of San Francisco’s rough and tumble Chinatown,
Price’s De Quincey’s conscience is stirred by the sad plight of the sorrowful
women we’re introduced to near the film’s beginning. The women have been kidnapped from their
families or torn from English-speaking Christian missions back home. Upon their arrival in the city by the Bay, they’re
abused, starved, and manhandled by ruthless Tongs who plan to barter their
charms in exchange for opium.
This is the sort of derring-do adventure-thriller programmer
that Monogram Pictures (the forebear of Allied) had churned out plentifully during
the 1940s. Nearly all of the creaky trademark
Monogram tropes are put into play: inscrutable
Asian villainy, exotic, smoky rooms containing secret passageways, routes to
underground labyrinths, trapdoors, drugs, crime, and bamboo-caged damsels-in-distress. The problem is this film was released in 1962
and such caricatures were from a time out of mind and would soon bring swift
biographer-daughter notes that Confessions
was “caught in unwelcome controversy when the Los Angeles Committee against
Defamation of the Chinese protested its release.”
Robert Hill’s purple prose fortune cookie of a screenplay
is possibly the weakest link in a production of already tenuous value. Though the black and white film runs only eighty-five
minutes, it seems much longer. A lengthy
opium-induced hallucination scene goes on too long and is ridiculously unconvincing. Near the film’s climax, there’s a trio of writhing
slave-trade dance numbers featuring a bevy of reluctant female conscripts. These auction-block “interpretative dances” are
merely a preamble to the round of bidding before an audience of salacious Tong
members. These dances were so painful to
sit through that I nearly found myself tempted to partake in a mind-numbing taste
of the special stash myself.
To the film’s credit, the producer was not afraid to cast
an almost-exclusive Asian cast to essay the roles of Asians, no matter how thin
or racially-insensitively drawn these characters were. There’s no casting of such British colonials
as Boris Karloff or Christopher Lee, or Swede Warner Oland, to play ethnic Fu Manchu or Charlie Chan type roles. It’s interesting to note that Confessions
was released the same year as Eon Productions’ Dr. No: in the first James Bond film it’s a Canadian, Joseph
Wiseman, who would assume the role as the titular, sinister and half-Asian
super-villain. So such casting was par
for the course. The problem is that Confessions is no Dr. No. Even for us diehard Vincent
Price fans, this film is little more than a curiosity.
Producer-Director Albert Zugsmith’s Confessions of an Opium Eater is made available as a Warner Archive
DVD-R release. The film is presented in its
original back and white and in a Widescreen 1.66.1 transfer. A true bare bones release, the set features
only the movie itself without even the nominal addition of a chapter selection menu
or theatrical trailer. Though the most
indefatigable of Vincent Price fans (of which I’m one) will likely choose to
add this film to their home library, more casual fans – if interested at all - are
best advised to stream the movie as a one-off.
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Angela Gray (Emma Watson), a young woman living with her father
and grandmother in rural Minnesota, accuses her father of sexually molesting
her. The father, John (David Dencik), is
brought in by the police for questioning. A reformed alcoholic and widower, John claims to have no memory of
abusing his daughter, but he is reluctant to deny the accusation because, he
says confusedly, “It must be true. Angela would never lie.” The
department brings in psychologist Dr. Kenneth Raines (David Thewlis) to consult
on the case, and Raines suggests that he hypnotize John to see if he can unlock
the repressed memory. Under hypnotic
regression, John “remembers” being in Angela’s bedroom, witnessing a sexual
assault on his daughter, and photographing it, but he says the rapist was
actually one of the department’s own officers and a family acquaintance, George
Nesbitt (Aaron Ashmore). The senior
investigator assigned to the case, Det. Bruce Kenner (Ethan Hawke), is quick to
believe the accusations. Convincing his
commanding officer to detain both Gray and Nesbitt, he goes full tilt to find
Supported by Reverend Beaumont (Lothaire Bluteau), the pastor of
the fundamentalist church that she and her family attended, Angela begins to
level increasingly bizarre charges. She
alleges that her grandmother Rose (Dale Dickey) was also involved in the abuse
as a member of a robed, hooded satanic cult that holds secret orgies and
sacrifices infants. “They’re
everywhere,” she tells Kenner, and suggests that the car crash that killed her
mother four years before was no accident. As evidence of her story, she fearfully shows the detective an inverted
cross branded on her stomach. “Now
they’ll kill you too,” she warns. For
Kenner, her charges are given additional weight by a barrage of TV media
reports about a covert nationwide network of Satan worshippers.
Filmed in Canada but supposedly situated in a grim, gray
American Midwest locale that looks like a backdrop from one of H.P. Lovecraft’s
gothic horror stories, writer-director Alejandro Amenábar’s “Regression” (2015)
is presented as a mystery story with horror overtones: Is Angela telling the
truth? Where are the photographs that
would substantiate her story and John’s hypnotically “retrieved” memory? If devil-worshippers lurk among the everyday
townspeople of Hoyer, Minn., who are they?
Viewers under 30 may be just as confounded as Hawke’s driven,
ultra-caffeinated investigator. Others
who are old enough to have watched tabloid TV in the mid-1980s will catch on
faster, especially since Amenábar tips his hand at the outset by informing us
that the story takes place in 1990. During the 1980s, in a series of sleazy TV shows presented as fact,
Geraldo Rivera, Sally Jessy Raphael, and others fostered the scary notion that
devil worshippers formed an incestuous, murderous underground movement in many
American towns and cities. The specious
stories were founded on lurid “memoirs” of people who claimed to be the victims
of satanists, cases of alleged “ritual” child abuse prosecuted by overzealous
authorities on the basis of shoddy investigative techniques (notably, hypnotic
regression), the rantings of deluded or unscrupulous TV preachers, and leftover
memories of the 1969 Manson murders. If
they weren’t true believers already, many middle-class viewers were convinced
when they tuned in to “The Devil Worshippers,” a segment of ABC’s prime-time
“20/20” show in May 1985, and heard host Hugh Downs proclaim: “There’s no
question that something is going on out there.” If the normally unflappable Hugh Downs was worried, they should be
too. Besides, tens of thousands of
parents were already fretting that their kids were being seduced to the Dark
Side by satanic symbolism in Black Sabbath rock videos.
The panic eventually subsided in the early 1990s as the
salacious stories were discredited and clearer thinking finally prevailed. In the meantime, the tabloid hacks had lost
interest and moved on to other worthy endeavors, like cracking Al Capone’s
money vault. But the damage had already
been done to the careers and reputations of many innocent people who had been
slandered as rapists and degenerates.
Although Amenábar’s movie is handsomely (if gloomily) mounted
and well-acted, there isn’t much of a mystery to Angela’s story if you remember
those relatively recent historical events. Consequently, by the time Kenner figures out that he’s being gamed by a
mentally disturbed young woman, TV hype, and his own overheated imagination,
you’ve already there waiting for him to catch up. I thought that Amenábar would put a twist in
the story that Angela’s coven of backwoods satanists actually existed, and Det.
Kenner would wind up like the unfortunate characters in John Moxey’s “City of
the Dead” (1960), José Ramón Larraz’s “Black Candles” (1982), and of course
“Rosemary’s Baby” (1968). But no, Kenner
confronts Angela and the film ends with a written epilogue about the real-life
‘80s satanist scare. No ambiguous final
shot of bystanders secretly wearing inverted crosses and giving Kenner sinister
glances after he walks away. Still,
Amenábar reminds us that it doesn’t take much to prey on people’s fears and
phobias. We may not worry today whether
Joe and Ethel next door have a satanic altar in their basement, but that’s only
because 24/7 cable shows, network news, and internet gossip have given us more
immediate things to fear and revile. Never mind that most are as spurious as Hugh Downs’ devil worshippers.
2016 Anchor Bay DVD of “Regression” is
crisp and sharp. Hawke, Watson, and
Amenábar discuss the film in four short features added as supplements.
All struggling young reporter Mike Ward (John McGuire)
wants is a break. He needs money so he can move out of his crummy room in a
three story boarding house, get his own place, and marry his girl, Jane
(Margaret Tallichet). His break arrives when he becomes the star witness to the
murder of Nick, the owner of Nick’s Coffee Pot, a neighborhood eatery right
across the street from where he lives. The newspaper he works for gives him a raise
and assigns him to cover the murder trial. At first he and Jane are elated
about Mike’s turn of fortune, and they began planning their future. But soon Jane
wonders if the young man Mike is going to testify against, a young cab driver
named Briggs (Elisha Cook, Jr.), is really the killer. “He’s so young,” she
says. Her attitude begins to put a damper on their relationship. After a trial
that seems a mockery of justice, Briggs is convicted on the basis of Mike’s
testimony and sentenced to death. Jane becomes more estranged from Mike as a
result. The lucky break Mike had hoped for now doesn’t seem so lucky.
“Stranger on the Third Floor,” directed by Boris Ingster,
and released by RKO Radio Pictures in 1940, is considered to be the first film
noir ever made. Based on a script by Frank Partos and an uncredited Nathaniel
West, it tells the story of the steady erosion of Mike’s confidence that he did
the right thing testifying against Briggs, and how easy it is to suddenly have
“the fickle finger of fate pointing at you.” The night after the conviction, he
comes home alone and finds a weird-looking stranger (Peter Lorre, looking more bizarre than usual), sitting
on the front steps of his building.
Mike goes up to his room and the film becomes more
introspective, with the addition of Mike’s voiceover, telling us what he’s
thinking. We get an inside look at his
life. He hates the place he lives in. He especially hates the neighbor in the
next room, a man named Meng (Charles Waldron), who is heard snoring on the
other side of the thin walls. In flashbacks, we see how Meng makes life
miserable for him. For one thing, he complained about Mike to the landlady
because of the noise he made when he used to work on his typewriter in the
evenings. In another incident he complained when Mike brought Jane up to the
room to get her out of a rain storm. Unpleasant words were exchanged.
Mike tries to shrug it off. When he goes to use the
bathroom down the hall, he sees the stranger who had been sitting outside,
standing on the stairway. He asks him what he’s doing there and the stranger
runs for it. Mike goes back upstairs, and notices Meng’s room is quiet. He
suddenly wonders if the stranger did something to him. He’s afraid to find out.
He remembers now that at least twice he threatened to kill Meng in front of
witnesses. If he found Meng dead, and reported it to the cops, he might end up
suspect No. 1. With his mind in turmoil, he falls asleep and goes into a dream.
Ingster and cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca, (who went
on to lens such classics as “Out of the Past,” “The Blue Gardenia,” “Where
Danger Lives,” and “Clash by Night”) pulled out all the stops for the lengthy dream
sequence that makes up the centerpiece of the film. It’s the thing that most
people talk about and remember about “Stranger on the Third Floor”. Full of noir imagery derived from German
expressionism, with exaggerated camera angles, lots of dark shadows, and some
brilliant lighting, the sequence is daring and cinematically compelling. It is
a bit heavy-handed, however, in the way it shows how anyone can be caught in a
criminal justice system that doesn’t care if your guilty or innocent. The
defense attorney is an incompetent shyster who urges him to plead guilty, the
jury is literally asleep during the trial, and all the press cares about is
whether it makes a good story. Even dear Jane is forced to give testimony that
only sinks him deeper. It may be overwrought, but it makes its point.
When Mike awakens from the dream he finally checks on Meng
and finds him dead. His throat is slashed the same way Nick’s was. His first
instinct is to run, but Jane persuades him to call the cops. He does and you
can guess what happens.
It all sounds a little far-fetched and I suppose it is,
but somehow the script manages to bring all of its paranoid element together in
a reasonable fashion, even if the nice, tidy ending is a bit of a stretch. As
you watch “Stranger on the Third Floor,” the filming techniques and the story
line, having become so familiar by now, you may think you’ve seen it all
before. I’m sure you have. It’s been imitated hundreds of times in film and TV.
But this arguably was the first of its kind.
Warner Archive has released this remastered print of “A
Stranger on the Third Floor,” on DVD only. The film looks good, the stark black
and white cinematography has been well transferred to disc. Don’t be alarmed
when you start the movie though. The opening credits look terrible, but after
that, it’s all good. They must have had to use a different film element for the
opening. There are literally no extras on the disc. This obscure 64-minute
movie is well worth watching and is more than just a curiosity. Definitely for any
fan of film noir. The only thing better would be a Blu-ray with some film
historian commentary giving the picture its due.
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John M. Whalen is the author of "Hunting Monsters is My Business: The Mordecai Slate Stories" . Click here to order the book from Amazon)
In the early 1970s celebrated purveyors of screen terror Hammer
Films went through a phase of adapting popular British television sitcoms into
big screen romps. This included churning out at no less than three On the Buses escapades as well as
one-offs for Man About the House, Nearest and Dearest, That's Your Funeral and Love Thy Neighbour. The latter four were
directed by John Robins who, glancing at his CV, largely forged his career out
of light comedy. Where most of these films were fairly weak in terms of entertainment,
they were never less than money-spinning. Love
Thy Neighbour, a box office hit upon its original release, has just been
gifted Blu-Ray status by Network as part of their continuing "The British
Film" collection, though whether it's a film deserving of such lavish
treatment is open to debate.
Neighbour started life in 1972 as a primetime ITV sitcom and ended up
running for 56 episodes across 7 series spanning 4 years. Created by Vince
Powell and Harry Driver (who wrote the lion's share of the televised episodes)
it revolved around the conflict between two next door neighbours, working-class
white socialist bigot Eddie Booth (Jack Smethurst) and educated black conservative
Bill Reynolds (Rudolph Walker), along with the more amicable relationship
between their long-suffering wives, Joan (Kate Williams) and Barbie (Nina
Baden-Semper). The root of the problem between the husbands was Eddie's stubbornly
racist mind-set (though it could be selective when the moment was propitious;
he certainly had a roving eye where Bill's shapely wife Barbie was concerned)
and the constant squabbles derived therefrom. With the two protagonists
frequently hurling insults at each other (which I shall refrain from quoting
here!), using language that simply wouldn't be permitted on mainstream
television today, 21st century viewers would probably be aghast. But
back in the day the programme was enormously popular and frequently topped the
weekly ratings. Additionally, those who retrospectively accuse the show itself of being racist tend to overlook
the fact that for all Eddie's unforgivably offensive remarks towards Bill
(which, admittedly, viewers were being invited to laugh at), most of the time
the guys rubbed along quite well, and Bill not only gave as good as he got, he
usually came out on top, the emphasis falling upon just how foolish Eddie's
Three series had already been screened by the time Hammer's film rolled
into cinemas in the summer of 1973. Starring all four of its television
incarnation’s leads and again scripted by Powell and Driver, it doesn't waste
any time with introductory faff, working instead on the safe assumption that
audiences by and large would already be familiar with the characters. There's
no real plot as such either, just several intertwined storylines (each of which
could have stood alone as a series episode) –
the guys get caught out by their wives when they attend a boozy striptease
show; the guys fall out over union matters in the factory where they work; the
guys' elderly parents (Patricia Hayes and Charles Hyatt) meet and get along
famously, much to their sons' mutual chagrin. The results make for a
mildly amusing if unremarkable time-passer that's very much of its era and the
appeal of which nowadays will boil down to how offended one is (or is not) by the writers' efforts to milk
laughs from both the pervasive racial disharmony and the derogatory insults
tossed around with abandon.
Network's Blu-Ray release presents viewers with the option of
watching the film in its 1.66:1 theatrical ratio or open matte 4:3. Although
the latter opens up picture information top and bottom, it isn't in high
definition – in fact it's
exceptionally poor definition – so having shelled out the extra £s to
own the film in pristine form, I'd suggest few people are likely to want to
watch it that way. The disc also includes a release trailer and an image
gallery comprising production photos, artwork and promotional materials from
the film's original release. It has been simultaneously issued on DVD.
True enthusiasts will be pleased to learn that Network has released
the entire TV series as a 9-platter box set too, packed with bonus enticements
that include the never aired pilot (in essence what would later become the
opening episode, only featuring Gwendolyn Watts instead of Kate Williams as
Eddie's wife), several Christmas and New Year TV specials...and Hammer's big screen film!
Though saddened by the passing of Sir Christopher Lee in
early summer of 2015, few admirers could argue that the tall, aquiline and
sepulcher-voiced actor had not lived out his ninety-three years to the
fullest. His occasionally checkered
feature -film legacy stands at well over two hundred motion pictures. I’ve no
doubt statistics of his television appearance resume are only slightly less
impressive. While I’m certain there are
a few wonks out there that have had the time and pleasure of screening every
frame of celluloid of the actor’s oeuvre that circulates… Well, for the rest of
us there are still plenty of rare films out there to discover and enjoy on the
Two of Lee’s less celebrated mid-60’s films for the
sometimes notorious producer Harry Alan Towers, Circus of Fear (1966) and Five
Golden Dragons (1967), have recently been brought together by Blue
Underground on Blu-ray for this splendid double-feature disc. This release has been my pleasing introduction
to Five Golden Dragons, a suspense-thriller
I somehow missed all these years and would, happily and surprisingly, enjoy a
lot more than first expected.
Five Golden Dragons
is capably handled by Jeremy Summers whose earlier work would include directing
stints for such British thriller melodramas as The Saint, Secret Agent,
and International Detective. Five
Golden Dragons was merely one of three low-budgeted Hong Kong based assignments
the director would tackle for producer Harry Alan Towers in 1966/1967. He had earlier helmed The Vengeance of Fu Manchu, the third of Tower’s five film cycle of
hit-and-miss thrillers starring an unlikely Christopher Lee as Sax Rohmer’s
sadistic Asian villain. Summers would
later satisfy his contract with Towers by introducing another horror-veteran, Vincent
Price, as a white-slave trader in The
House of 1,000 Dolls. The screenplays for both Circus of Fear and Five
Golden Dragons are credited to “Peter Welbeck,” a regular pseudonym of
There are a lot of familiar faces on-screen, though Lee
fans, in particular, should take caution. The actor doesn’t appear for sometime well into the film, and then is
seen very sparingly. The uncontested
star of the enterprise is Robert “Bob” Cummings, the celebrated leading man of
such Alfred Hitchcock thrillers as Saboteur
(1942) and Dial M for Murder (1954). Cummings would, much later on, serve as a recognizable
1950s and 1960s TV-personality with a gift for muggery and light-comedy. In Five
Golden Dragons, Cummings plays the amiable Dr. Bob Mitchell, a Kansas-bred,
Stanford University-educated playboy who is, ostensibly, in Hong Kong to shore
up tar-gum deal for a confectionary conglomerate. In
true Hitchcockian fashion, this playful, wise-cracking innocent is accidentally
swept into a dangerous game of intrigue when a lawyer he met in passing while
in Manila scrawls the curious designation “Five Golden Dragons” on a sheet of
paper. The lawyer, who is soon thrown to
his demise from a twelfth-floor balcony by a black-hooded assassin, had inexplicably
earlier asked his cabbie to deliver the note to Mitchell at his temporary
residence at the plush Bangkok Suite at the Hong Kong Hilton.
Not too surprisingly, Mitchell becomes a person of interest
when the cabbie passes the dead man’s note to two Hong Kong police inspectors,
played by the crusty and beloved Rupert Davies and Hong Kong’s own Roy
Chiao. Davies, supposedly Chiao’s
superior, is something of a Shakespeare buff, casually dropping fractured,
dimly-remembered lines from the Bard’s pen to underscore the dramatic events
unfolding before him. When the more pragmatic
and sensible Inspector Chiao comes to call on Mitchell, incriminating note in
hand, the playboy is relaxing poolside with two comely German sisters, Ingrid
(Maria Rohm) and Margret (Maria Perschy). It’s through Margret that Mitchell eventually learns that the Golden
Dragons are “five of the most evil men the world has ever known.” This five-man syndicate, ruthless business
partners but strangers to one another, control Asia’s underground gold market
through front-offices in Paris, Rome, Majorca, Bombay and Hong Kong.
With the Hong Kong police on alert and peering through
binoculars, we learn that four of the feared Five Golden Dragons are to convene
– for the very first time – to discuss the liquidation of their secret order
and to divvy up their ill-gotten assets that total some 50 million dollars. That money has been sitting well hidden in a
Swiss bank account, and will be dispensed when the syndicate turns over their
smuggling operation to the Mafia – a deal that was to be brokered by the
ill-fated lawyer at the film’s beginning. The identity of the fifth and most mysterious Golden Dragon is played
out melodramatically in the film’s climax.
Though not a classic, the film is fun and colorful and has
that delicious Playboy-era 60s-vibe. Summers certainly makes good use of Hong
Kong’s exotic locations; it’s all sunshine, ports, poolside encounters, east
meets west opulent hotels, colorful crowded streets, and visually stunning
topography. The clothes and hairstyles
are all straight from a trendy and glossy 60’s magazine - as are the requisite wood-paneled
walls, go-go dancing, transistor radios, Yashica cameras, and boxes of Dutch
Masters cigars. Malcolm Lockyer’s exotic
score expertly mixes occidental eastern melodies with sweeping western
orchestral arrangements ala John Barry; though some of his overly dramatic
music cues underscoring several only mildly
suspenseful moments might cause one to smile. The musical sequences at the shady, syndicate controlled Blue World
nightclub featuring the vocal talents of the plotting Magda (Margaret Lee) and
the Japanese pop-singer Yukari Ito are mostly superfluous to the plot but their
songs are tuneful and catchy and will surely be welcomed by devotees of 1960s
Summers provides no fewer than three elongated chase scenes
that offers great glimpses of Hong Kong travelogue but, sadly, only an
occasional thrill. These sequences tend
to be remarkably slow-moving and stilted. This is unfortunate as tighter editing of these chase scenes would have plainly
been more effective. There’s a wild
pursuit of unsure footing on the city’s canals amidst the bobbing Saipan and
Junks, a more comical rickshaw chase through the city’s market street and,
lastly, a perhaps too-cartoonish battle on the balconies of the famed Tiger
Pagoda. There’s the requisite ‘60s James
Bond reference as well, when Cumming scolds his enemies for the delay in
meeting the villain he describes as “Goldfinger no. 5.” This is the
wise-cracking Bob Cummings show throughout, and it’s not too difficult to find
him a likable if unusually unorthodox hero.
German actor Klaus Kinski is on hand as well, a sadistic
minion of the Five Golden Dragons. Kinski’s “Gert” is a dour, serpentine figure,
with sunken eyes and an expressionless face. He’ so primped and powdered in this film that he looks as if he might
have once served as master of ceremonies at Cabaret’s Kit Kat Club of
Berlin. The film’s heralded four “guest
stars” (Christopher Lee, George Raft, Dan Duryea, and Brian Donlevy) mostly sit
uneasily in the chairs of the Golden Dragons and, sadly, share little screen
time or dialogue. Lee would later recall
that the gathered actors “spent most of our time sitting around a table in
bizarre clothes.” In Five Golden Dragons Lee’s appearance
totals a few minutes at most, but he is at least allowed to deliver a few lines
of stentorian dialogue. The same cannot
be said for poor George Raft whose talents are almost entirely wasted here.
Christopher Lee figures more prominently as the mysterious
lion tamer Gregor in Circus of Fear (issued
in the U.S. under the more exploitative title Psycho-Circus). Sadly, Lee
is somewhat hamstrung here as well as his menacing visage is mostly hidden
beneath a black hood throughout. As far as John Moxey’s Circus of Fear is concerned… Well, I don’t wish to go into too much
detail here. Last year I attended a
“theatrical” screening of this film at a drive-in hosting a triple-bill of
Christopher Lee films. That night
moviegoers were treated to the gritty, black and white A.I.P. cut of the film
intended for U.S. audiences (with a running time slashed by a near unforgivable
twenty-two minutes), but my nonetheless favorable impression of the film itself
can be found by clicking here.
Having said that, I’m happy to report that this new Blu-ray
issue presents the film uncut in its complete international version form and in
the brightest hues of Eastman Color – there’s nary a scratch or visual blemish
to be found. This addition of a color
palette is a true revelation, and effectively changes the entire tone of the
gritty, monochrome noir I viewed in truncated form at the Drive-in into
something quite different. Previously
issued on DVD in 2003 as part of Blue Underground’s The Christopher Lee Collection, the Blu-ray of Circus of Fear contains all the bells and whistles of its earlier
counterpart. Not to be missed is
director John Moxey’s excellent supplemental commentary. Moxey (City
of the Dead, The Night Stalker) reminisces about his long career in Britain
and Hollywood, the making of Circus of
Fear in particular, and the actors and technicians who brought this low
budget but riveting mystery to the big screen.
Blue Underground’s Blu-ray of Circus of Fear features a 2K High Definition (1080 HD) transfer
from the original British color negative. It’s presented in a widescreen 1:66:1 ratio in HD mono audio. Along with the wonderful Moxey commentary,
the disc also features a scene selection menu and both the International and
U.S. trailers in both Color and Black and White versions. There’s also a colorful poster and still
gallery included. Five Golden Dragons makes its first appearance on any U.S. home
video format, with the film newly re-mastered in High-Def from the original
uncut negative, with a Widescreen 2:35:1 format and monaural HD sound. The set also includes the obligatory poster
and still gallery and international theatrical trailer.
horror sub-genre generally known as 'Nature Attacks' blossomed in the 1970s and
probably reached perfection with Jaws (1975). Certainly Jaws was not the first
movie to put humans at the mercy of a relentless animal antagonist but it's
success guaranteed that it would never be the last. Being very well respected
and most profitable film of its type there was little doubt that more such
movies would be made but while much fun can be had watching the various carbon
copies with monsters of all types, it's the nature attacks tales that stretch
outside the basic formula of Jaws that are the most interesting. That's not to
say that most of these films are good but they are usually fascinating viewing just
to see what threat from the animal kingdom can be blown up to epic proportions
to frighten the public. I'm sure the producers of The Bees (1978) had
Hitchcock's brilliant The Birds in mind as a template but that is a level of
competence that this film could never reach.
in South America a United Nations science outpost has Dr. Miller (Claudio
Brook) running some tests and experiments on African killer bees. Miller is
part of a team that is working to figure out a way to increase the production
of honey and their plan is to crossbreed African killer bees with less deadly
bees to create a new, less aggressive but highly industrious breed.
Unfortunately, the lure of top grade honey is too enticing for a local villager
who, along with his young son, sneaks into the killer bee compound at night.
The pair of would-be thieves disturb the bees, resulting in the son’s death and
the father's disfigurement. The nearby villagers blame the death on Dr. Miller
so they storm the research compound, releasing the bees and killing Dr. Miller.
Miller’s wife Sandra (Angel Tompkins) smuggles some of the remaining bees
back to America and takes them to Dr. Sigmund Hummel (John Carradine) who also
happens to be her uncle. Siggy, as he is called, is the head man of this UN bee
project in the States and has been working in the field for years. With the assistance
of John Norman (John Saxon) and Sandra, Dr. Hummel tries to continue Dr.
Miller’s research. While their work progresses, a group of greedy American
businessmen try illegally importing some killer bees of their own into the
United States. Their plan goes horribly wrong and their courier is killed in
transit, thus releasing his bee stash into North America and off we go into
disaster film territory. The bees set up shop in a cave near a public park (!),
begin multiplying, building hives and occasionally stinging a person to death.
the bees become a bigger and more deadly problem threatening to destroy the
human race, the UN team begins to make some real progress and actually slow the
insects' advance for a while. But at that point the bees evolve into a species
smarter and more deadly than anyone could have imagined, leaving Dr. Norman,fighting
to find a way to communicate with the creatures to stave off the end of
humanity. I don't want to give away the completely mad ending so that the curious
can marvel at it's unusual solution to the problem. I'll just say that finale
is almost worth getting through the rest of the movie just to witness.
be clear about this now - The Bees is a terrible film. It's inept in a dozen
different ways with awful dialog, a ridiculous romance angle, ham-fisted
villainy and generally wretched acting. The only two actors that make it out of
this mess with their self-respect intact are Saxon and Carradine, even if that
venerable actor is saddled with a truly stupid German accent. I love John
Carradine and it was great to see him featured so prominently in a film this
late in his career. He’s good in his role but I did find myself constantly
distracted by the sight of his arthritic, crippled hands. I'm aware of Mr.
Carradine's arthritis problems later in life but this was the first time I've
seen a director choose not to hide this deformity onscreen. It drew my
attention repeatedly and made me wince whenever I saw him holding things or
picking up objects. Saxon is the only actor who seems to be rewriting his
dialog on the fly, which is to say that his lines sound the least stilted and juvenile
throughout. Saxon finds a way to seem naturalistic in his role even when he is
being asked to do some pretty dumb things and, as a plus, he gets to have a
gratuitous fist fight.
wish The Bees was a better movie. I really enjoy the nature attacks sub-genre and
the idea of swarms of malevolent insects engulfing people automatically gives
me the chills, so I'm a fair mark for the story being told here. But this film
is so poorly produced and badly written that it is impossible to ever take
anything seriously. I can get behind the film's basic message of dialing back
the harm we do to the environment before we damage something vital but the
entire affair just seems like an under budgeted amateur mess. Most of the time
it feels like a 1970s Saturday morning cartoon script that somehow got made
into a feature film. On the plus side I do have to give the director credit for
some creative use of (a lot) of stock footage to show the military's fight
against the invading bee horde. This footage is well integrated and the scenes
of the Rose Parade were very well done with a surprise appearance by President
Gerald Ford before the bees descend.
one more note about the film that I can't ignore. The sort of jazzy score by Richard
Gillis is pretty bad and entirely inappropriate to the events it is used under.
It feels like music written for another story idea that got grafted onto this
film out of necessity. It is almost always out of place and distracting
especially after the seventh or eighth time the same few bars of music leap out
of the soundtrack to emphasize whatever is happening. The music might work in another movie but
here it's overused and its repetitive nature just grates on the viewer's
for fans of nature amok movies The Bees has been release on Blu-ray by the
fine folks at Vinegar Syndrome. The movie looks and sounds fantastic putting to
shame the poor quality transfers from video sources I've seen in the past. In
fact, I can't imagine a better looking presentation of the film and one might
even say the excellence in evidence here is better than the film deserves. The
only special features are the movie's trailer and a very nice ten minute interview
with the film’s director Alfredo Zacarias. Zacarias speaks with a lot of
passion about The Bees and it's clear he really felt he was doing
something important. I certainly don't think this is a good movie but I can appreciate
the work the director put into this project and hearing his story from his own
lips might have been the best part of this Blu-ray.
Writer Derek Pykett (whose excellent book " MGM
British Studios: Hollywood in Borehamwood" was
reviewed here earlier this year) has turned his hand to directing; setting up
and playing host to a dozen intimate interviews with some of Britain's
most respected and beloved thesps, the results are now available on DVD with
"From Stage to Screen", a privately produced, limited edition 6-disc
With each performer given their own ‘episode’ and a total running
time of 15 hours, there's so much material here that it'll take the average
viewer a number of sittings to get through it all. Beyond starting with disc
one and working through methodically, where one begins is probably going to be
proportionate to the level of esteem in which the viewer holds each particular
actor or actress represented within the set; I confess that at the time of
writing I still have a fair bit to get through. However, I've adopted the
latter approach and, being a 007 fan, I zeroed in first on the hour devoted to
Julian Glover (who played villain Ari Kristatos in For Your Eyes Only), following up with Where Eagles Dare's charmingly poisonous Major Von Hapen, Derren
Nesbitt, and The Elephant Man's
outright wicked showmaster Bytes, Freddie Jones.
Also included in this collection – which could potentially be the
first of a series – are Michael Medwin, Shirley Ann Field, Michael Craig,
Michael Jayston, Joss Ackland, Roy Dotrice, Vera Day, Lee Montague and Sarah
The episodes are supplemented with a selection of trailers
representing each interviewee's most renowned films. All the participants
regale the viewer with some marvellous and often amusing anecdotes, and it's
pleasant to be reminded of just how much they have actually achieved over the
decades, as well as some of the iconic figures they've worked with. Even though
the interviews average out at a little over an hour apiece, so extensive are
the careers under discussion that there's plenty of gold still to be mined and
one is definitely left with a thirst for more (for example, the aforementioned
Glover interview – disappointingly, given my passion for Bond – touches only
very briefly on For Your Eyes Only).
Although, being as it’s a documentary, the set is exempt from
classification, potential purchasers should be warned that there's a smattering
of fruity language throughout.
Proceeds from the sales of "From Stage to Screen" will
be divided between two charities, Alzheimer's Society and All Dogs Matter.
Though I’m generally not wishy-washy in my assessment of…
well, practically anything, I admit to holding a decidedly middle-ground
opinion on the work of Jesus “Jess” Franco. There are some films by this
controversial Spanish director that inspire me to become more intimate with his
work. Conversely, there are others that actually discourage me from seeking out additional titles. His films, particularly those from 1972-1973
following, have proven to be polarizing to cineastes. Though he attracted notice in the early 1960s
with such more or less traditionally-mannered horror films as The Awful Dr. Orloff and The Diabolical Dr. Z (both shot in
atmospheric black and white and both quite entertaining), Franco was a restless,
creative soul eager to push the envelope.
By the mid-70s Franco had attained a reputation as a competent
and bankable director of exploitation features. Even his detractors – and there are many – cannot argue that the
director had an ability to bring a film to market both quickly and under-budget. Beginning in the early-1970s, he would controversially
begin to introduce elements of soft-core pornography within the framework of
otherwise more conventional horror or historical-period films. Some find these films artful and intriguing;
others see them as sadistic, lurid celebrations of sexual violence. These controversial films would often be seen
as pandering to an audience that four-time Franco collaborator Christopher Lee
would later deride as the “raincoat crowd.” Whether you found Franco’s films as artful unabashed celebrations of the
female form or as unrelentingly sordid cinema that’s unapologetically
misogynistic in construction… Well, this would all depend on your own moral compass.
Blue Underground has just released two of Franco’s earliest,
most notorious – and, to be fair, occasionally artful – films on Blu-ray. Both films originate from the era that
historians perceive as the controversial director’s transitional period: Eugenie… the story of her journey into
perversion (1970) and Justine (1969). Both films were inspired by the works of the
notorious eighteenth century French novelist the Marquis de Sade, an author for
whom Franco clearly shares an affinity.
JesusFranco’s Eugenie… the story of her journey into
perversion (1970) is tangentially based on de Sade’s notorious 1795 novel La philosophie dans le boudoir (“Philosophy in the Bedroom”). Franco describesde Sade as “an extraordinarywriter” in one
supplement, and offers Eugenie as “the story of a poor girl who drowns
in a hemorrage of sin in the discovery of love.” If this is truly Franco’s perception, his interpretation
is a bit at odds with de Sade’s own conception of the title character. In de Sade’s novel, Eugenie is a young girl already
unredeemingly infused with decadent and depraved impulses. In Franco’s film, the young girl is portrayed
as a victimized ingénue, an innocent misued and brutalized by elders and
authority figures for their own lurid pleasures. In de Sade’s novel Eugenie is a willing
participant in acts of near-unspeakable debauchery. In his own version of the
wicked novel, Franco almost entirely removes this component from the scenario,
portraying the young girl as an unfortunate hostage to predators who manipulate
her through a combination of mind control and drugs.
Though his name is offered on publicity materials as one
of the film’s two stars (the other being the gorgeous Swedish actress Marie
Liljedahl), Christopher Lee recalls Eugenie
as the only motion picture in his career that he was moved to ask his name
being struck from advertising. The
distinguished British actor has long told a tale that, a mere six months
following his work on the film, a friend tipped him off that the final cut of Eugenie
was not playing in the usual cinemas in and around London. Quickly following
up on his friend’s observation, Lee was reportedly horrified upon discovery the
film had been relegated to the sordid “blue” cinemas of Compton Street in the
city’s Soho district. He was especially
troubled by a scene where a completely nude woman, surrounded by a gaggle of
Sadists, was strapped to a table in the background of one of his shots. In the early 1980s, Lee dismissively told
Robert W. Pohle Jr. and Douglas C. Hart, authors of The Films of Christopher Lee (Scarecrow Press, 1983), “that I was
entirely ignorant of what was going to take place behind my back after I had
finished the comparatively innocuous scenes I appeared in.”
In the eighteen-minute and informative supplement Murderous Passions: The Delirious Cinema of
Jesus Franco (also included on this Blue Underground release) film
historian Stephen Thrower suggests that Lee might have been somewhat
disingenuous with his claim of being unaware of the debauch scene playing out
behind him. As Lee was a self-acknowledged worldly and literate man of
the arts, the author suggests that it would be highly unlikely that the actor
would have not been at least partly familiar with the writings of de Sade. Surely this cultured English gentleman would
be well aware of what sort of film this was to be? Having suggested this,
Thrower nonetheless admits willingness to accept Lee’s victim-hood at face value;
he acknowledges neither Franco nor producer Harry Alan Towers were the type to suffer
moral ambiguities in the countenance of such deception.
In any event, and regardless of his excised headline
billing, Lee is hardly a main player in the production. The actor recalls the “bits and pieces” in
which he was involved were shot on a Barcelona sound-stage in all of two
days. In his single primary scene, the
actor was even made to supply his own wardrobe: a red velvet smoking jacket he
had appropriated following the shooting of the East German-French-Italian
co-production Sherlock Holmes and the
Deadly Necklace (1962). What is
certain is that Lee would not work with the director again. Though belated release dates on the continent
and in the U.S. might suggest otherwise, Lee collaborated on four films with
Jesus Franco from late 1968 through mid-1969. Along with Eugenie, there were
The Castle of Fu Manchu (1970), The Bloody Judge (1970), and Count Dracula (1972).
If Lee harbored any lasting hard feelings for Franco’s
perceived betrayal of his trust, it apparently wasn’t long-lasting. In
one supplement Lee magnanimously describes the Spaniard as “a much better
director than he’s given credit for.” He suggests the filmmaker was handicapped
not by any lack of talent in his craft, but by tight schedules (most of Franco’s
films were given three to four weeks of photography at a maximum) and shoestring
budgets. If this is Lee’s genuine
appraisal of Franco’s talents, it’s not one shared by the director himself. The filmmaker is surprisingly dismissive of
his own work, only acknowledging with dispassion, “of all my films [Eugenie is] the one I hate the least.”
Though not a neat break from his past oeuvre, historians
of continental film are of the mind that Eugenie
was more-or-less a transitional movie for Franco, a pivotal catalyst for the
director’s turn from more traditional movie-making forms to a more seamy and
steamy catalog of cult-films. In the
final analysis, Eugenie was a
difficult film to market in 1970 as it had a cinematic foothold in two
disparate worlds. U.S. distributor,
Jerry Gross, didn’t even want the final product as he found the film too artsy
and tame and wanted to see more flesh on-screen. Franco would defend the finished film as
“erotic but not pornographic.” Depending on where one draws the line between
art and pornography, I suppose this is a somewhat truthful self-assessment on
Franco’s part. It took no fewer than
three attempts to market the film in Germany due to censorship issues, and in
the U.K. there was no general release.
less exploitative than Eugenie, Franco’s Justine is actually a visually
softer and more lavish production. It’s
a moody costume-drama set in the time of de Sade’s world, a time replete with
castles, and lush gardens, and baroque music. The film is also mounted in a more traditional format, the many sordid indignities
suffered by the title character recounted in an unrelenting episodic
style. Like Eugenie, Justine (the beautiful
Romina Power, the eighteen-year old daughter of screen-legend Tyrone Power) is degraded in equal measure by religious figures, criminals, noblemen, and low
caste boarding house tenants. Also as in
Eugenie, the young girl is savaged with moral disregrad by both predatory
men and women. The film voyeuristically drifts
from episode to episode as Justine endures a series of humiliations. The film is unrelentingly grim, and the
filmmaker’s almost casual depictions of sexual violence rarely pauses a moment
so one can catch a breath.
called the Spaghetti Western version of The
Dirty Dozen, A Reason to Live, A
Reason to Die! is out on Blu-Ray from Kino-Lorber. Despite a superstar trio
of actors in the form of James Coburn, Bud Spencer, and Telly Savalas along
with an established director Tonino Valerii (Day of Anger; My Name is
Nobody) and gorgeous sets, the film is nonetheless something of a mixed bag
that doesn’t take off until the third act.
plot concerns Colonel Pembroke (Coburn), a Union officer out for revenge
against Major Ward (Savalas), the Confederate officer in charge of Fort Holman
who also killed Pembroke’s son. With the support of the Union Army, Pembroke
and his second in command, Eli Sampson (Spencer), enlist several Union officers
condemned to the hangman’s noose who can have their freedom if they help
Pembroke overtake Fort Holman.
all fans and critics of the genre unanimously agree that the movie is tediously
boring until Coburn and his men finally arrive at Fort Holman and the battle
begins. And what a glorious battle it is with Gatling guns and exploding gun
powder kegs galore (some sources claim this scene was shot in only five days).
In essence, this scene manages to be the film’s saving grace. That being said,
it is usually the teaming of the three leads that alerts many movie fans to the
film’s existence. After all, any movie sporting James Coburn, Bud Spencer and
Telly Savalas on the poster certainly catches the eye.
Coburn had been to Almeria the previous year to film Sergio Leone’s somewhat
divisive Duck You Sucker! in 1971. He
plays a similarly laconic role in A
Reason to Live, A Reason to Die! However, depending on what version of the
film you are watching (and there are several) his character can come across as
sadly underdeveloped and mysterious. According to Marco Giusti’s book Dizionario del western all'italiano Coburn
and director Valerii did not gel well, and a bored Coburn spent most of his
time between takes doing yoga. Telly Savalas is also curiously underdeveloped
as the villain. His best moment probably comes when he executes a deserter
during the final battle. As such, Bud Spencer actually comes out of this film
as the one to watch, chewing the most scenery and receiving the majority of the
screen time (ironically, this role was originally supposed to have gone to Eli
Wallach). Firmly entrenched as a European superstar after the release of They Call Me Trinity (1970) and its
sequel, Spencer plays his part in a fairly comical fashion. He manages to
lighten the mood well—but not to the extent that it seems as though he walked
on set from another movie—and the film would suffer greatly without him.
Spencer is dubbed in this film by the same man who dubbed him on the Trinity films and several others.
Sharp-eared viewers may notice Spencer interacting with another actor who is
himself dubbed by the same man who later dubbed Spencer in his other films like
Crime Busters (1977). The observation
is made all the more amusing when this character tells Spencer, “You seem
familiar.” This isn’t a joke though, but a set-up for something in the plot
later on when he outs Spencer as a Union spy.
the larger than life trio of super stars that headline the film, in some
respects the sets still manage to be the real star of the show. In a word, Fort
Holman is as gorgeous and grand as any movie set could hope to be. As eagle
eyed movie fans will notice Fort Holman is actually the set built for El Condor (1970) the previous year which
starred Lee Van Cleef and was directed by John Guillermin. And if my eyes don’t
deceive me, the large ranch house that Coburn and the convicts visit is the
McBain residence from Once Upon a Time in
to the Blu-Ray, don’t let the first grainy shot fool you, the picture quality
is actually excellent. This is probably as good a place as any to mention this
is the cut 92 minute American version, hence the grainy opening shot which is
in fact taken from the film’s climax, not the uncut 112 minute version which
has a different opening. The uncut version reportedly does a much better job of
fleshing out the characters of Coburn and Spencer and their motivations are
both clearer. This still isn’t as bad as a 79 minute German version though,
which was cut with the intent of making it into a Bud Spencer comedy! All in
all, though the first half drags on a bit, this film is still highly
recommended for Spaghetti Western and Bud Spencer fans.
The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974) feels like a working man’s
thriller. Its bad guys come from varying backgrounds—military, mafia, experience
on just the type of train they are hijacking—but none of them are exceptionally
slick or formidably imposing in a supervillain sort of way. There is no global
catastrophe, no city under siege; there isn’t even a single building at risk of
explosion or collapse. These men want $1 million. Period. Sure, they have
kidnapped about two dozen hostages, but in an age now when cinematic baddies
detain entire metropolitan regions, this arrangement seems almost quaint by
comparison. Leading the attempt to thwart the four antagonists are a couple of
guys just doing their job, as capably and confidently as they would any other
day. Written by Peter Stone, based on John Godey’s (Morton Freedgood) novel, this
model of 1970s American movie grit stands out in form and function for the way
its unpretentious, low-key scheme is conceived of and enacted, and the
systematic, procedural manner in which the plot is hindered by men with evident
Starting with the
motorman trainee who recites the stop-start routine for a train as it pulls in
and out of a station, Pelham goes for
realistic detail at most every turn, setting up how this operation works and economically
dispersing the minutiae that will prove integral to the plot as the film moves
along. Scarcely any nuance of character or indication of incident, from Green’s
(Martin Balsam) sniffles to the description of the subway lines to hypothetical
escape routes, is mentioned or shown without having some later relevance. Quirks
and gradually revealed backstories imbue each of the four criminals with
definable features that become resiliently realistic. The paunchy Green (code
name for Harold Longman), adorned by craggy grey hair and thick glasses, is
hardly the embodiment of a criminal mastermind, but he is experienced in the
ways of the rails and that is what matters. Brown (AKA George Steever, played
by Earl Hindman), the most irrelevant of the four, is marred by a stutter,
while Grey (Giuseppe Benvenuto, played by Hector Elizondo) is a sleazy, pervy
wildcard. The man in charge, Blue (Bernard Ryder - Robert Shaw), is introduced
by a subtle shuffle on the station landing and later bides his time with
crossword puzzles. These are like the bad guys next door.
On the other side
of the plot are the protagonists, similarly presented as unassuming Average
Joes. Transit Authority police lieutenant Zachary Garber (Walter Matthau), who
unwittingly yet naturally becomes the key hero of the film, is first seen
dozing off. He then spends the first part of his day escorting some visiting
Japanese dignitaries, giving them a guided tour of the New York City subway
system, reciting a numerical spiel composed of dry, textbook knowledge. Played by
Matthau with delightful cynicism and weariness, a year after his excellent turn
in Charley Varrick, Garber
subsequently contends with the bureaucracy of city management while doing his blue-collar
best to negotiate with the hijackers. It is, of course, a slow day to start (one
of few clichés in the film), but in this initial downtime, Garber and his crew
are presented in an engaging series of humorous openings. Believing they don’t
understand English (the punchline being that they do), Garber calls the
Japanese officials “dummies” and tells them friend and street-wise cohort police
lieutenant Rico Patrone (Jerry Stiller) works for the mob on the weekend.
Meanwhile, the foul-mouthed supervisor, Caz Dolowicz (Tom Pedi), blusters his
way around, decrying a politically correct workplace where a man can’t swear in
the presence of a lady. These salty-seasoned guys have been on the job for a
long time; they banter with a grizzled, veteran expertise and a crass B.S.
detector: “Who’s gonna steal a subway train?” exclaims Caz after hearing of the
admittedly unorthodox crime.
The four criminals
institute a time-limit in which to receive the required money and the necessary
accommodations for escape, but the race-against-the-clock scenario that
develops in The Taking of Pelham One Two
Three takes its time increasing gears. Contrary to flash-pan hyper-stylized
action vehicles that move along at an instantly expedient rate (like the late
Tony Scott’s 1999 remake—still a decent film), Pelham gingerly amps up the velocity. There are brief moments of
ruthless action, in which the crooks express their disciplined seriousness and
potential for fatal violence, but generally, at least in the beginning, Blue and
his associates are methodically efficient. “We’re in no hurry,” he says, testing
the patience of Garber and his team while suggesting the potential of yet-to-be-revealed
plans that give the film part of its sweeping suspense.
Then the train
starts rolling. As a satisfying crescendo to the carefully orchestrated first
two acts, the accelerating conclusion of Pelham
gets everyone and everything in motion. The good and the bad spring into action,
and in a fascinating display of proficiency and well-oiled coordination, Garber
and the officers begin a rapid radio relay, going through the chain of command
and hashing out the best way to proceed. The deadline nears, the sickly mayor
agrees to pay the ransom, the money counting begins, and soon the transport of
the fastidiously arranged cash is underway. (The mayor’s flu is another of
those curious character traits that make these individuals more than just
generic mechanisms.) As the situation underground grows hazy, and the placement
of the criminal quartet and their prospective getaway becomes uncertain, David
Shire’s tremendous score, a vital component of the film throughout, now becomes
a driving composition, recalling a film noir or television police drama with its
urban intensity and pounding pace. Combine this with the editing of Robert Q.
Lovett and Gerald B. Greenberg, the latter having won an Oscar for his
similarly dynamic cutting on The French
Connection (1971), and The Taking of
Pelham One Two Three barrels toward its exhilarating destination in both
image and sound.